Kirstie, Oprah In Heavyweight Battle Of Weight-Loss Commercials

’Tis the season for weight-loss pitches and this month’s commercial stars are two TV heavyweights -- Oprah Winfrey and Kirstie Alley.

I am not using the term “heavyweight” here in any way to make a pun out of the weight-loss struggles of these two TV personalities turned-diet endorsers. They are inarguably heavyweights in terms of their stardom, both for the TV shows they’re known best for and in this context, their personal histories of weight loss and weight gain, which they have both talked about publicly at length for years.

Their struggles make them natural choices as spokespersons for their respective companies -- Kirstie for Jenny Craig and Oprah for Weight Watchers. In fact, Oprah apparently loves Weight Watchers so much, she bought part of the company last October -- 10 percent of it at a reported price of $43.2 million. 



Part of the deal was that she become the face of Weight Watchers, promoting the brand in TV commercials, of course, but also on social media. For example, on Dec. 29, Oprah posted a simple Tweet that read: “Why I joined Weight Watchers. Come Join Me. Let's do this together,” and Weight Watchers’ stock price shot up 26.6 percent, according to USA Today.

Oprah is such a powerful brand in her own right that the commercials she has produced for Weight Watchers consist of little more than herself sitting in a chair, facing a camera and talking about her weight-loss struggles and the benefits of the Weight Watchers program. 

The gist of the message is that you can lose weight on the Weight Watchers system, while not feeling deprived of your favorite foods (as long as they don't exceed the amount of “points” you’re allowed daily). Among other things, one of the Oprah spots has her speaking about how much she loves bread and how she still gets to have her daily bread because its inclusion in her daily calorie intake conforms to the Weight Watchers program she is on.

By contrast, consider the Kirstie Alley commercial that started running this month in which she is seen on a replica of the “Cheers” bar set, which she enters triumphantly and then receives high praise for her weight-loss (50 pounds worth) by none other than barflies Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson seated in their usual positions and played by “Cheers” stars John Ratzenberger and George Wendt, respectively.

The spot is styled like a 1990s sitcom, complete with reaction sound (laughter and oohs and ahs) from an unseen audience (possibly a nonexistent audience since these ambient sounds could certainly have been added later).

Fans of “Cheers” -- of which there must be many because this was one of the most storied hits in the history of television -- are undoubtedly loving this spot. I loved it too. I thought it was clever to position Kirstie’s weight-loss triumph and the spot's selling message within the context of her old show, for which so many still have warm feelings. And the building of this elaborate set, the writing of an actual, sitcom-style script and the casting of these two beloved cast-mates indicates that a great deal of thought -- and the investment of money -- went into this production.

As usual, however, opinions in the social media universe vary. “Good for her. Cheers to Kirstie Alley’s Weight Loss!” tweeted one fan earlier this month. “This Jenny Craig add [sic] is an unholy atrocity! Not CHEERS you bastards!” tweeted an overheated (and possibly overly caffeinated) detractor.

The Oprah Weight Watchers spots are much less elaborate than the Jenny Craig “Cheers” commercial. In the Oprah commercials, she’s meant to be positioned as talking almost extemporaneously about weight-loss and Weight Watchers. It’s the kind of “heart to heart,” just-between-us approach that has endeared Oprah to so many for so many years.

And yet, along with the praise on social media, there is considerable scoffing. “Is there anything more charming than Oprah in those Weight Watchers commercials? Like, I love bread too, O!,” tweeted one commenter on Twitter who may have been trying for sarcasm.

This tweet was easier to categorize: “Oprah’s Weight Watchers commercials really piss me off,” wrote one detractor. “I can’t deal with Oprah Winfrey's Weight Watchers commercials,” tweeted another.

The challenge for both companies would be the ability of each of their spokespersons to stay with their respective program and successfully shed, or at least manage their weight. Any failure to do so would likely doom their commercial pitches. I wish them both good luck in their efforts to live their best lives (to paraphrase Oprah) in 2016.

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