Weight Watchers sues Jenny Craig for misleading ads: Let the mudslinging begin

For everyone tired of all of the bickering between Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien on NBC, you may want to turn your attention to the fight that's brewing between Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig.

Weight Watchers announced today that they're suing Jenny Craig for running a misleading advertising campaign.

The offending ads star Jenny Craig spokeswoman Valerie Bertinelli, who is famed for her days on One Day at a Time and is being phased out at Jenny for Seinfeld star Jason Alexander. In at least one of the ads, Bertinelli is wearing a lab coat and refers to a "major clinical trial," which, she says, shows that "Jenny Craig clients lost, on average, over twice as much weight as those on the largest weight-loss program."

Weight Watchers, which just so happens to be the largest weight-loss program, doesn't like that. No, not at all.

According to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig is making their charge based on two old and unrelated studies. They say that Jenny Craig has manipulated the information to make Weight Watchers look bad. (What, a company making another company look bad in a TV ad? Say it isn't so.)

If the folks at the Weight Watchers corporate offices truly feel that these ads are misleading, it's understandable why they would want to sue. A lot of money is at stake. A CBS report from a couple years ago refers to Americans spending $35 billion a year on weight loss products, and according to a new market research report, the weight loss market will grow to be worth $586.3 billion by 2014.

Granted, those numbers refer to everything from diet pills to weight loss programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, but the point is -- both companies stand to lose a lot if either is perceived as not being an effective way to lose pounds. And people like me are most definitely paying attention. As regular WalletPop readers may know, every week this month, I've been writing about my own struggle to lose weight.

In any case, I called Jenny Craig and was told that they'd send a statement my way in the near future, but not near enough, since it hasn't arrived yet. I also contacted Weight Watchers, and a spokesperson helpfully emailed me a press release and the full complaint that they've lodged with the United States District Court, in the Southern District of New York. It's quite a complaint. Here are some of the more compelling parts of their argument.
  • "The centerpiece of Jenny Craig's campaign is a false television commercial featuring Jenny Craig spokesperson Valerie Bertinelli in a laboratory setting declaring that she has 'big news,'" the complaint says. "Clad in a lab coat and surrounded by 'scientists,' Bertinelli announces that a 'major clinical trial' shows that Jenny Craig clients lost, on average, over twice as much weight as those on the largest weight loss program."
  • "These statements unambiguously tell consumers that Jenny Craig is superior to the largest weight-loss program--indisputably, the Weight Watchers weight-loss program--on the most important criteria to weight-loss consumers: the amount of weight lost. Jenny Craig's campaign enforces its false message through visual representations--such as bar graphs--that purport to depict the head-to-head efficacy of all current weight-loss offerings of WWI and Jenny Craig." NOTE: (WWI, in this case, stands for Weight Watchers International and not World War I, though this is definitely a big battle between the two weight loss titans.)
  • "The Jenny Craig advertisements are false. Jenny Craig did not conduct 'a major clinical tral' comparing its product with the Weight Watchers program. The trials cited by Jenny Craig (available on its website) are, in fact, two separate studies, conducted ten years apart for entirely different purposes than comparing the efficacy of the Jenny Craig and Weight Watcher's weight-loss programs."
  • The complaint also takes issue with some of the comments Bertinelli makes in her ad, where she says, 'We're talking about a major clinical trial here, run by some serious lab geeks,' and her comment, 'Jenny's delicious cuisine and the support of your personal consultant make all the difference.'"
  • There are basically 12 lengthy points that the lawyers make in their case, but they sum up, in part, with: "Jenny Craig's campaign is plainly designed to steal customers from WWI during the winter diet season, the roughly two-and-a-half month period from around New Year's Day through mid-March when the bulk of consumers joining a weight-loss program enroll."
So how will all of this end? I can't begin to predict. I'm still trying to figure out a clever way to work in a pun involving that crazy TV series The Biggest Loser.

Geoff Williams is a regular contributor at WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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