What Happens When A Celebrity Diet Spokesperson Doesn't Lose Weight?

Hiring a celebrity spokesperson can be a boon for weight loss companies since they don't even have to pay entertainment magazines and websites to run their "before and after" photos. However, hiring celebrities is also a big risk for diet programs, because like all humans, they're likely to gain the weight back — and they'll do it in the public eye.

Today the New York Times reports on the perils of promoting diet plans using famous faces, rather than a client with atypical results who can quietly disappear from advertising if they gain weight. Each major weight loss company takes a different approach to celebrity endorsements. Weight Watchers has only hired four famous spokespeople in its history: Lynn Redgrave, Jenny McCarthy, Sarah Ferguson, and now Jennifer Hudson. Nutrisystem let the celebrities come to them. It currently employes Marie Osmond and Dan Marino, and says it only approached them after learning from news reports that they'd successfully followed the plan. Convenient!

Jenny Craig has less faith in its stars. It employs six celebrities at a time and right now the lineup includes Carrie Fisher, Valerie Bertinelli, Sara Rue, Jason Alexander, Nicole Sullivan, and Ross Mathews. Company reps say this enables them to reach different demographics, but it also lets them swap out a star who regains weight without taking much of a PR hit.

Case in point: Kirstie Alley. From the Times:

It's hard to forget commercials of the actress and former Jenny Craig spokeswoman Kirstie Alley lustily drooling over the program's sanctioned fettuccine, or of her triumphant disrobing on "Oprah" to reveal her new bikini body in pantyhose.

It's equally hard to forget photos of Ms. Alley, after regaining the lost weight and then some, again on "Oprah": this time more conservatively dressed and contrite. Or, more recently, falling with an audible thud during a lift on "Dancing With the Stars."

Uh, her partner had a leg spasm. And there's no "thud" in the version we watched. But the dig goes to show that Alley's failure to lose weight only resulted in another slew of fat jokes, while Jenny Craig was left unscathed.

Nutrisystem "executive of celebrity marketing" Stacie Mullen explains the rationale of weight loss companies:

"The dieting public understands that the dieter has a responsibility to comply with the program," said Ms. Mullen, adding that if the dieter fails, "I don't think the public blames the program the dieter was on. We help the dieter take the first step to lose the weight."

Diet programs may take credit for successes, but when you fail, that's all you. If celebrity spokespeople, who have even more help than the average client, don't wind up on the cover of People in a bikini, that doesn't mean the program is hard to follow, or that losing weight isn't as easy as they make it look. Clearly the overweight celebrity is just too irresponsible and self-indulgent to stick with the plan. And as soon as a famous dieter slips up, they'll be dropped for another star — with an audible thud.

When Dieting Becomes A Role To Play [NYT]