Weight Watchers Wins 1st Round vs. Jenny Craig

A New York court has granted Weight Watchers International a temporary restraining order in its lawsuit against Jenny Craig. The order prohibits the latter from using comparative claims of superiority in its current marketing communications.
Earlier this week, Weight Watchers filed a lawsuit against rival Jenny Craig, alleging that the Nestle unit’s ad campaign makes “deceptive claims” about its success rate.

The Jenny Craig TV spot in question claims that consumers, on average, lose over two times as much weight as those on Weight Watchers’ program. It shows actress/spokesperson Valerie Bertinelli in a lab setting surrounded by “scientists,” where she refers to the comparative results as the outcome of a “major clinical trial run by serious lab geeks.”

Weight Watchers, however, said that no such study was conducted and that the statements in the spot are not supported by scientific facts. According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by the weight-loss program provider, “The trials cited by Jenny Craig (available on its Web site) are, in fact, two separate studies, conducted 10 years apart for entirely different purposes than comparing the efficacy of the Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers weight-loss programs … The Jenny Craig ‘trials’ do not relate to WW’s current offerings.”

Weight Watchers said the new ruling was made because the court found “such [Jenny Craig] claims are not supportable.”

Reps for Carlsbad, Calif.-based Jenny Craig did not return inquires for comment. The company’s agency, WPP Group’s Young & Rubicam, Irvine, Calif., is not named in the suit. Weight Watchers is seeking to have the ads pulled and unspecified monetary damages.   

Last September, another Y&R client, Dannon, settled a $35 million class action suit over alleged false scientific claims made on behalf of Activia, a brand fronted by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, and DanActive yogurts. Y&R, New York, was not named in the suit. The payout in that case was thought to be the largest settlement ever over charges of false advertising for food products.

Jenny Craig has been ratcheting up its media spending in the weight loss wars: From January to November of last year, the company spent $65 million on advertising, compared to the $40 million spent by Weight Watchers, which is the industry’s largest player. In 2008, Weight Watchers spent $65 million in measured media, versus Jenny Craig, which spent $59 million. Those amounts do not include online spending.

Weight Watchers chief executive David Kirchhoff isn’t buying into that spending bravado. He said in a statement: “The fact that Jenny Craig chose to deceptively try to compare themselves to Weight Watchers in a manner that is clearly unsupported by fact or science suggests to us a lack of confidence in their own current offerings.”

This story updates and replaces an earlier item with news of the temporary restraining order.