Rob Lowe, DJ Khaled: Why diet firms want male celebrity endorsers

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Rob Lowe | Provided Photo

The flood of celebrities hawking diet plans in ads is taking on a more masculine tinge.

In the past, the airwaves included actors or singers like Jennifer Hudson, Valerie Bertinelli, Mariah Carey, Jessica Simpson or Janet Jackson . And don’t forget Oprah Winfrey, not only an endorser of Weight Watchers but a major investor as well.

This year, however, more men are in the mix — and sometimes surprising ones.

Rob Lowe has switched from playing white-suited Col. Harland Sanders in KFC ads —fried chicken is not exactly considered a diet food — to the new celebrity face of weight-loss outfit Atkins Nutritionals. Also this week, Weight Watchers welcomed hip-hop producer and recording artist DJ Khaled as a social media ambassador.

The gradual shift to include more celebrity pitchmen for diet plans, not just pitchwomen, marks a recognition by diet companies that men collectively have their share of weight to lose as well and are becoming more serious about shedding it, both for the sake of vanity and health.

Panelist DJ Khaled speaks onstage at the 2018 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour on January 4, 2018, in Pasadena, California. | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Panelist DJ Khaled speaks onstage at the 2018 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour on January 4, 2018, in Pasadena, California. | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

“We identified as a primary target for growth what we call self-directed people who are interested in eating better,” said Scott Parker, chief marketing officer of Atkins Nutritionals. “The self-directed target is pretty evenly split between men and women.”

Recruiting more men to the weight-loss cause could help to inflate the U.S. diet products and services market beyond its expected 3.2% this year to $70.3 billion, according to Marketdata, a Tampa, Fla.-based market research firm that tracks the diet market.

Commercial weight-loss companies are likely to lead that growth with a 12.7 percent gain to $3.55 billion this year thanks to dieters who have more income in a stronger economy.

Close to 71% of Americans ages 20 and older who are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. January is a favorite month for diet and exercise companies to seek recruits after overindulgence during the holidays and the subsequent New Year’s resolutions.

Diet companies have, to varying degrees, tried to reach men for years. Often, the celebrities have been retired sports stars like former NFL player Dan Dierdorf who talked of letting their waistlines go after leaving the field. Dierdorf, who became an announcer, pitched Ultra Slim-Fast a generation ago in advertising.

Retired Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino serves as an endorser for Nutrisystem, along with female stars, like singer Marie Osmond and actress Melissa Joan Hart.

But lately, diet companies appear to be seeking more endorsers from the entertainment field who can lure both men and women simultaneously.

In Lowe, Atkins is getting a celebrity who “appeals equally” to men and women, as discovered in research. “Clearly, needing to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle isn’t restricted to females,” Parker said.

DJ Khaled’s 3.9 million Twitter followers alone establish him as a powerful online force, when it comes to reaching a new audience in the diet world.

His “ambassador role is powerful, because his community is diverse and his connection to them is authentic,” Weight Watchers said in a statement to USA TODAY. The company wants “to create meaningful connections within his community and spark new conversations about the brand.”

There’s no doubting the power of celebrity.

“Celebrity endorsements tap into that. ‘I want to be like Rob Lowe, Kim Kardashian, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift,” said Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “’They use product X. I want to use X.’ It’s that straightforward of a persuasion.”

Zlati Meyer, USA TODAY

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