Charles Barkley and Lenny Clarke: Ideal Weight Watchers Spokesmen

by , Feb 7, 2012, 12:51 PM
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I got into it with a crudité platter during the Super Bowl. It was sitting there, all smug and superior, among the empty beverage vessels and strip-mined chicken wings that, just hours before, had teemed with such promise. As I crammed another fistful of mini-weenies into my maw, the carrots and plum tomatoes got all up in my bid-ness: "Hey blimpie boy - why not try chewing with your mouth closed?" Never cowed by taunts from insentient foodstuffs, I shot back, "Oh yeah? You're stupid and dumb and nobody likes your dumb stupid niacin!" I looked up to find the other party attendees eyeing me with a mixture of concern and pity.

Upon returning home, The Missus suggested that I use this week to atone for my sins against wellness and digestion. And so it was that, as I struggled with a killer Monday morning case of the knish sweats, I clicked over to Weight Watchers' online "Lose Like a Man" campaign HQ. Due to an epiphany in my late-20s ("your critical organs are about three delicious chimichangas away from attempting to flee your body"), I probably don't need to avail myself of Weight Watchers' products, the operative word there being "probably." But I figured it couldn't hurt to keep my options open.

Besides, I wanted to see how, if at all, Weight Watchers had leveraged its Charles Barkley sponsorship online. I love Chuck, who's as much of a raging id as any nonincarcerated individual in the histories of media, sports and celebrity. Also, after hearing his open-mic comments about his Weight Watchers "scam," I wondered how he would dig himself out from under it.

The Barkley page on the site doesn't address the controversy, though the company and its thoroughly unchastened spokesperson addressed it in a statement. What it does is offer a clever little look behind the TV campaign, complete with clips, recipes and, tucked away several scrolls down, an acknowledgement that yeah, you might have to exercise, too. In one video, we get a making-of look at the Barkley spots; in another, "Quick Picks," Barkley answers this-or-that queries ("pizza or meatballs?") with rejoinders like "Oh, man. Come on. That's not even a fair question."

I love the approach. Rather than assault girthy dudes the way these programs often have – with a video sequence of photos from weddings and other family milestones set to sad piano plinks, the implication being "if you don't shed some poundage, your heart is going to explode and you'll miss all of these wonderful occasions, which will be less wonderful for your survivors because you couldn't stop stuffing your face with pie, tubbo" - Weight Watchers simply says that its system makes the process less painful than it might otherwise be. It doesn't yank on the heartstrings or promise miracle results.

In Barkley, the company has the ideal spokesperson. One senses that his motivations for participating in the campaign were practical and financial, rather than tied to complicated feelings about food and loss and longing. That's how many dudes in the targeted age bracket approach weight loss: as a necessary chore, rather than as a self-inspirational journey.

The Weight Watchers For Men site's stealth asset, however, is comedian/character actor Lenny Clarke, whose spots I haven't seen aired elsewhere. In his clips, he deconstructs the weight-loss process, giving it the thumbs-up "even if you want to stay alive just for revenge." It's rare that Weight Watchers allows anything that could possibly be perceived as a "fat joke," even by the world's most kitten-sensitive individual, anywhere near its brand. It's to Clarke's great credit that he is able to build up WW while at the same time having some fun at its (and his own) expense.

Really, if there's a problem with the Weight Watchers dude-oriented videos, it's that there aren't enough of them. Hell, just stick Barkley and Clarke in a room together and let the cameras roll. Their banter should prove eminently YouTube-able, if perhaps a shade too blue for the brand. It can't hurt to give it a try, right?

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