Is there still a place in the world for mainstream diet brands such as Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers, as consumers who used to call themselves dieters instead identify as health-conscious?
That’s a question these tried and true brands are asking. And here’s the question that I’m asking: Is a celebrity spokesperson still the best way to connect? Marie Osmond for Nutrisystem, Kirstie Alley for Jenny Craig and now the spokeswoman of all spokeswomen-Oprah for Weight Watchers? Is it possible for the “Oprah Effect” to return Weight Watchers to its former glory? As a lifetime dieter and healthy-food obsessed marketer, I am going to go out on a limb to say even Oprah may not be enough. The new paradigm in dieting and fitness isn’t about going to weekly meetings, consuming pre-packaged foods and counting calories (or points in the case of Weight Watchers). It’s about eating clean, natural foods, knowing where it comes from, and being held accountable by robust and much less expensive online communities like My Fitness Pal, Nike plus and a host of others.
Weight Watchers, along with other more traditional diet plans, have been playing catch up with the digital fitness and weight loss community for the past few years. They have steadily been losing share to new competitors who are not considered “diets” but healthy lifestyle communities. Brands like FitBit, Jawbone and other wearable technology, which encourage consumers to be more focused on eating well and support them in their quest for a healthier, more active lifestyle. Being in constant control is what this generation of healthy wants. They also clearly want the 24/7 personal and emotional support that online communities provide, like plans that consistently encourage them to eat cleaner and less processed foods, and a peer group that cheers them on when they need it. They also choose to focus on positive energy and the long-term health benefits that go way beyond a number on the scale. That’s why brands like the Paleo diet and their Whole 30 program are turning the diet world upside down. The clean-eating movement has made these mainstream diet brands reevaluate everything.
There’s no denying that Oprah is the ultimate Hail Mary pass. I idolize her as much as millennial women admire Taylor Swift. I completely identify with her life-long battle with her weight, another thing Weight Watchers is counting on. But on my phone you will find Fitbit, my fitness pal, fitness buddy, Lose it and a Couch to 5k app. What I probably don’t need to do is to pay Weight Watchers to help me figure out my eating plan.
Since Oprah stepped in at the end of 2015, Weight Watchers stock has doubled. She is OPRAH after all. And every brand, business or book she touches almost immediately feels her golden halo. And along with Oprah’s promise to share her journey, Weight Watchers has promised to become a “21st century technology organization”, engineered for the digital era…to help people mange their weight, heath and wellness. But it may be too little, too late.
And of course, most brands cannot afford a spokesperson like Oprah. That is not the moral of the story. What healthy food brands, especially these heritage brands, need to do is pay attention – not pay a spokesperson. Your competition may not be who you think they are. And you’re consumers behaviors are changing at the speed of light. Good news is, they are telling you their needs and wants every second of every day. Your job is to listen.