Kirstie Alley is loud, funny and intoxicatingly direct in this new spot for Jenny Craig. That's because she doesn't mince words. Bypassing the whole politically correct, personal growth route to pound-skimming, she essentially says, "Hello, I'm fat!" In so doing, she's probably the first spokesperson in advertising history ever to use the "f" word in a weight-loss commercial. (And repeating that three-letter word doesn't hurt promotion for her Fat Actress series debuting on Showtime, either.)
But the difference is that she's here, she's fat and she doesn't want us to get used to it. The ad breaks today, during Super Bowl week for the diet business, when it's crucial the phones start ringing. So she's shown on a minimal set, picking up a telephone (a cartoonish, oversized thing that looks like two giant macaroni noodles in pig-ish, not princess, pink) and calling founder Jenny Craig directly. "It's in regards to me being fat," she tells some unseen assistant on the other end.
The never-appearing founder part is cool—like a Charlie's Angels device. And despite Alley's salt-o'-the-earth language, the spot elevates the whole genre. The fact that there's just a chair and a phone breaks out of the whole standard, canned-testimonials look. (There are just so many ways to show before and after pictures.) She comes across as stripped and real, and the combination pops. We feel for her, sitting there in her womb chair in her giant purple palazzo pants, vulnerable yet outspoken. This is the Kirstie we know, unplugged, in contrast to the packaged presentation of previous Jenny Craig spokes-celebs, including Monica Lewinsky.
Monica appeared girdled into her slimifying "after" outfit. The set-up was a bit awkward, with Lewinsky in her confessional voice, playing for sympathy while unwittingly reminding the American public about her, er, past problems with an indiscreet appetite.
As a stunt, it certainly got a publicity bump for the company. But it was short term in many respects. Monica gained the weight back, as is the case with some 95 percent of dieters within two years. Moreover, in these days of the gastric bypass, many weight-loss companies are also facing bad press—including a recent study showing that none of these diets is very effective in the long run, except for Weight Watchers.
But there are always new studies, and a fresh start in January, and this spot mostly talks to the people, who like Kirstie herself have already tried the diet, liked it, lost weight and gained it back. (She apparently went on Jenny Craig some 14 years ago during her Look Who's Talking period.)
Several months ago, she was quoted in a People cover story saying she was content with her size, and that reports she was obese were overblown. (In the last year or so, the paparazzi have been only too happy to snap her bending over, while the tabloid text tends to chronicle the saga of her ass.) And then, after starting work on Fat Actress, she did a second interview with People saying, "To tell you the truth I didn't really realize I was fat until I saw the first show."
Now that she knows, Alley speaks directly into the camera: "Hey, you're chubby too! Let's lose weight together! They have really yummy food…. They have chicken fettuccini!" She goes crazy on the fettuccini part, pronouncing it as if it's the name of some rock god. It's delightful and inviting—and no doubt many will want to join her in fettuccini worship.
Kirstie-before is also refreshingly honest and human compared to Anna Nicole-after, for TrimSpa, baby. The latest TrimSpa spot appears to record Anna Nicole: The Starvation Years. Her face, tight and tanned, looks cadaverous and, obviously hopped up on something, she's reaching terrifying heights of freakishness. She seems to be channeling a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Chucky—when she speaks, she's like a doll with a pull string repeating the same lines over and over ("Like my body?" "Want some munny?")
Kirstie, of course, has struggles that are also public, but much more relatable. Our fascination with her weight started, I guess, during her Pier One appearances; by the end, she was a head, with the rest of her body in darkness, or behind an armoire. It's hard to be the country's giant id. (With Oprah now thin, the former Cheers star has taken over where Elizabeth Taylor left off.)
Obviously, the company has taken a risk—she's scheduled to come back at the end of March, after being on the diet three months, to report on her progress. (And no, there will be no Biggest Loser-type weigh-in, with a scale and giant LED read-out.) Even if Kirstie does lose the weight, there's still the slight problem that she's really selling three brands here: Kirstie, Jenny Craig and Fat Actress.
At the end of the spot, Alley gets through and says, "Jenny! Hey, listen girl. I'm fat!" Judging from this auspicious start, it looks like there should be enough of her to go around.
J. Walter thompson, New York
89 Editorial, new york