The practice of using celebrities as spokespeople for a brand goes back more than a century. Now we may call them Brand Ambassadors or Sponsored Athletes, but the concept remains the same: Find someone famous that aligns with your brand’s product, community, and values, and use them to increase your market share.
There may not be an industry that has leveraged celebrity influence in ads more in the last 20 years than the weight loss industry. And at the top of the list the rivalry always comes down to Weight Watchers vs. Jenny Craig.
For years the two brands have gone head-to-head in a fight for market share and for brand recognition. In recent years their ads have featured celebrities like Kirstie Alley, Sarah Ferguson, Charles Barkley, Jason Alexander, Valerie Bertinelli, Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, and Jennifer Hudson. But it was Hudson that, for a time, changed the game.
Note: We’d be almost willing to bet that you can’t split that celebrity list into the brand that they were associated with.
In 2013, as both Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers pushed forward with their typical celebrity driven ad campaigns, there was a swing. Jenny Craig, a brand that was 30 years old at the time, started hearing about how great their campaign with Singer/Actress Jennifer Hudson was. It was the kind of praise that brands die for, but there was one big problem – Jennifer Hudson was in ads for Weight Watchers.
The misunderstanding shook Jenny Craig’s new (at the time) CMO Leesa Eichberger into dropping the celebrity ad platform. It was a big move for the brand that made sense, why spend money on celebrity endorsements when the general public can’t even remember which celebrities are pitching which brand? However, it didn’t take long to see the results weren’t what she expected.
It’s true that consumers were having trouble keeping the celebrity faces aligned with the brands, but when Jenny Craig dropped their endorsements, they’re brand recognition dropped so significantly that they brought Kirstie Alley back less than a year later in a campaign that celebrated her return to the brand.
And in 2015, just two years after the Jenny Craig decision, reports showed that Weight Watchers saw profits drop when they stopped running ads with celebrities like Jessica Simpson and the aforementioned, Jennifer Hudson. Again, the decision makes sense because of the cost of using celebrities and the desire to change things up from the norm, but sometimes the best course of action is to remember the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Looking at the whole picture together, and the profit and brand recognition loss for both brands when celebrities were dropped, we end up with two important takeaways regarding the use of celebrity spokespeople.
1) Do it right!
While there may not have been anything technically wrong with the either the Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig celebrity ads, they certainly weren’t memorable, and that’s a problem. If you’re going to spend the money on a high profile spokesperson, you need to make sure that you’re creating ad content that makes people take notice and remember your brand just as much as they remember the celebrity appearance.
2) It works!
Even with the flaws in the system and the confusion that arose, both brands saw their market share drop when they stopped using celebrities in their major ad campaigns. That right there is evidence enough to know that there is an opportunity to make a famous spokesperson work for your brand.
In 2016 both brands have used celebrities in their campaigns. A quick look at YouTube shows Oprah pitching Weight Watchers and Kirstie Alley still working with Jenny Craig, and based on the information we have and what history has taught us, that’s probably what’s best for both brands.