According to the IHRSA Global Report, health club membership surpassed 183 million global users in 2018 - an increase in around 66 million users in the last ten years. Since then, steady growth has been recorded across key markets worldwide, with the industry on track to reach 230 million health club members by 2030. As the sector continues to grow, fitness clubs, along with health and wellness brands, are faced with the problem of trying to distinguish themselves within a saturated market.
PROMOTING BEHAVIOURAL CHANGEEncouraging consumers to invest in fitness brands and start exercising requires motivating a change in behaviour. To do this, brands can use advertising to affect and inspire the decision-making process, using creativity and emotional marketing to drive change in attitudes and actions. One extremely clear-cut study of advertising efficiency conducted by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) found that emotional campaigns outperformed others on most criteria in the long term including increased sales, market share and consumer loyalty. It was established that emotional advertising aided in achieving engagement and recall and led to enhanced brand perceptions.
Sport England's hugely successful 'This Girl Can' initiative is a prime example of a campaign which creatively utilised emotion whilst capitalising on the key period for New Year’s resolutions. This was a multi-channel campaign which deployed across JCDecaux’s Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) network in the UK for two weeks starting in January 2015 and due to its success was rolled out again in 2017, and again on its fifth anniversary in January 2020. It was estimated that the campaign influenced 2.8 million women to change their behaviour and become more active through encouraging women to feel proud to try, rather than afraid to fail. The campaign rose to success through its accomplishment in evoking feelings of confidence, acceptance and empowerment, which resonated with women in the UK.
However, not all campaigns are so successful as health and fitness brands advertising globally face the challenge of navigating cultural differences and expectations. While fitness brands should be promoting inclusivity and improved health, they often entirely miss the mark. This was the case with Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ campaign which continued to run in New York although being banned in the UK due to controversy. The campaign depicted a young, slim female in a yellow bikini asking, ‘Are you beach body ready?’ which sent a demeaning message to the public that this was the only body type that had value. Studies have shown that such advertisements suggesting individuals should lose weight have the opposite of the desired effect, with more people feeling body shamed and gaining weight due to negative messaging.
THE ROLE OF OOH: VIRGIN ACTIVE CASE STUDYAccording to Talon, DOOH is the most recalled ad format and is recognised as a huge driver of brand awareness and conversations. This makes the channel a sizeable asset for health and fitness clubs since word-of-mouth recommendations are often thought to be a key part of membership growth. These advertisers can utilise OOH’s proven ability to place brands top of mind for consumers and get people talking about their offer.
As is the case for most of the health club industry, Virgin Active found that January (alongside September) is their most important sales period of the year. It could be argued that January is also a month when people are more receptive than usual to behaviour change, rendering it crucial for fitness brands to hone in on the resolution crowd. OOH reaches 98% of the UK population at least once a week as they travel and commute, shop, socialise and go about their daily lives in the city. This gives brands the opportunity to reach consumers at pertinent touchpoints during their journey leading to increased consideration and engagement. Not only does OOH provide health and fitness clubs with the scope to communicate through mass reach at important times, but the frequency of the messaging can also help to reinforce the notion of behavioural change.
In 2019, Virgin Active recognised the synergy between OOH and mobile and decided to use this to their advantage in a January advertising campaign. Their strategy was to regularly target consumers across channels at relevant points throughout the day, and the outcome was that those exposed to the campaign were 2.4x more likely to visit Virgin Gyms. These results align with research carried out by Lumen, which found that OOH heightened the effects of mobile, leading to a 125% increase in brand recall and a 52% increase in engagement.
A FOCUS ON MILLENNIALS AND GEN ZWith Millennials contributing significantly to growth in the fitness club sector, brands need to make sure they are effectively communicating and appealing to this demographic. A recent global study by Kantar Millward Brown revealed that Millennials and Gen Z chose OOH as their most preferred ad format. Much more than the older generation, Millennials see health as a constant commitment to exercising and eating well.
For Millennials, wellness is a daily, active pursuit. They’re exercising more, eating smarter, and smoking less than previous generations… And this is one space where they’re willing to spend money on compelling brands.Goldman SachsInvestment Banking Company
Brands are stepping up in order to appeal to this market, and of course, this is not isolated to gyms - other health and fitness-centric brands advertising everything from fitness apps to sportswear are spawning increasingly creative ideas to capture the attention of the younger market. OOH provides brands with the opportunity to bring ideas to life and create shareable experiences through campaigns. For example, Keep’s interactive experiential site in Shanghai found an innovative way to test the health of commuters whilst inspiring them to keep passionate about fitness. Nike’s full station domination dance studio in Milan encouraged the local community to make it their own space and partake in a dance training experience.
As today’s educated consumers are becoming more rational and dedicating significant investment toward their lifestyle, health and fitness brands can distinguish themselves through utilising OOH to creatively broadcast positive and emotional messaging at the right place and the right time in the places that have the most impact.