Can the ‘Oprah Effect’ Save Weight Watchers?

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It seems no matter what Oprah Winfrey touches, from books (Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth”) and movies to fashion (Spanx) to actual people (you’ve heard of Dr. Phil, right?), it turns to gold.

It’s called the Oprah Effect. An endorsement from the media mogul billionaire results in big dollars for whatever brand or product she blesses, even now, four years after ending her internationally popular talk show.

Winfrey ponied up $43 million in October to purchase a 10 percent stake in Weight Watchers, along with a seat on the board of the struggling weight loss company. The move caused shares in Weight Watchers (WTW) to soar.

Company shares surged again Dec. 30, after a new Weight Watchers commercial featuring the former talk show queen and her struggle to lose weight aired on national television, according to the New York Post. It was Winfrey’s debut as Weight Watchers’ new spokesperson.

“Are you ready? Let’s do this together,” Winfrey tells viewers in the spot, entitled “Why I joined Weight Watchers.”

Although the New York-based weight loss company was one of the first national diet programs, Weight Watchers has lost traction in recent years as dozens of other weight loss programs joined the playing field and calorie-counting apps and fitness trackers gained popularity with health-conscious consumers.

Though Winfrey’s endorsement and stake in the embattled weight loss company is still new, it’s having an impact. Forbes contributor Bruce Japsen said health insurance giant Humana confirmed a 40 percent increase in monthly enrollment for its Weight Watchers program in October, after Winfrey announced her investment in the company.

Humana said it provides the weight loss program free for six months to qualified health plan members, after which it offers the program at a reduced rate.

“We did see an enrollment spike in our Weight Watchers program in October,” Humana spokesman Jeff Blunt told Japsen. “It’s also notable that enrollment in the Humana/Weight Watchers program had been trending up at an average rate of 9 percent per month for the four months prior to October. In October, enrollment jumped to 19 percent over September.”

Though it’s too early to tell how the Oprah Effect will impact Weight Watchers in the long term, company CEO James Chambers said in a call with analysts in November that he expects Winfrey’s endorsement to give the company a much-needed boost.

“Oprah will bring new magic to this great company,” he said. “She will inspire consumers and improve our ability to create strong brand experiences for their individual journeys. I have every confidence that this will accelerate our company transformation and will have a significant positive impact on millions and millions of lives over the coming years.”

Winfrey’s “magic” made a big difference for a small sports bra company in my region. The company got a huge boost in business a number of years ago after Winfrey enthusiastically endorsed the bras as one of her “must haves” in an episode on losing weight.

How would Winfrey’s endorsement of a product affect you as a consumer? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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