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Swimsuit season is upon us, which means it’s time to shed some weight, stick with the P90X, cut back on the sweets and never eat past 9 p.m. Who am I kidding? I couldn’t keep my New Year’s resolutions, let alone be motivated by a bikini. And I might be OK with that, too, if it weren’t for my pesky pals Kim, Khloe, Dan and Valerie. I see them everywhere — in magazines and newspapers, online and on television. Their message is relentless and always the same: “If I can lose weight, so can you.” According to a study at the University of Colorado at Boulder, one out of three women and one out of four men are on a diet at any given time. Moreover, the university reports that as of 2007 the diet industry grossed $40 million per year and was continuing to grow. Knowing this, are we really supposed to believe that stars are just like us? Or, are the celebrity faces that sell us health and fitness just another pretty picture of a dream we’ll never achieve? With their latest celebrity spokespeople, Jason Alexander and Jennifer Hudson, companies such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers want us to believe the former. Which begs the question: will we?
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like stars who are more like me are more likely to get my attention.
I’d like to think that if I had Kardashian money, was a Hall of Fame quarterback or worked as a successful TV actress, I would have all sorts of time for diet and exercise, not to mention resources to boot. It’s easy to spin arguments like these into excuses. But Alexander, who most of us know as George Costanza from the wildly popular and now popularly syndicated sitcom Seinfeld, was short, bald and had a belly, a belly that grew over the show’s nine seasons. His character liked to eat. To put it mildly, he was not the celebrity face we envied (in fact, at one point he was the face of KFC). Nor, for that matter, was Hudson, whose weight issues were highly publicized when she went from “one of us” to an Oscar winner almost overnight. In the wake of this was a series of personal tragedies that played out very publicly, thus holding our attention while eliciting compassion. I can’t help but wonder if Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers chose these seemingly Everypeople to inspire us intentionally. With an estimated 67 percent of Americans over the age of 20 considered overweight or obese (according to the National Center for Health Statistics), you’d hardly blame them for trying. Besides, they certainly are more believable than the already thin Kardashian sisters, or even other celeb spokeswomen such as Sarah “Can I sell you access to the Royal Family?” Ferguson and Jenny McCarthy, who started her career posing for Playboy. But is it working?
If we consider celebrity endorsements the most visible type of third party branding, the answer is yes. Writing for CNN in the wake of last year’s Tiger Woods sex scandal, Harvard Business School Associate Professor Anita Elberse argues that — even when they backfire — celebrity endorsements “generate considerable value.” In addition to tapping into new markets via said celebrity’s fan base, endorsements “trigger sales by reassuring consumers of the quality of the endorsed brand” and “convey important information about an attribute [of a product] that helps differentiate a brand from its competitors.” She goes on: “This is particularly helpful for attributes that are hard to explain, demonstrate, or measure.”
It would make sense, then, that weight-loss endorsements from Jason Alexander and Jennifer Hudson would capture our attention and our pocketbooks. For their parts, both have been blunt about the reasons for signing on: they want to look better. And isn’t that what we all want? Not our own perfume or reality show, or to pose for the cover of People magazine, but to look better, and, in turn, like the way we look? Feeling good about one’s self will always be a key motivator; it’s also a powerful sales driver. Tapping Alexander and Hudson sends a message that a certain kind of star power only goes so far. As consumers, we need better reasons to buy a product; these companies seem to get that we are an informed generation, just as likely to turn to our friends on Facebook for advice or information as we are print media or the television. By giving us celebs we can relate to, the message is clear: Stars: They’re more like us than we think.
I can buy that. Can you?