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Health Clubs Pump Up the Promos

Gyms and health clubs, like many other segments, need to muscle up to keep cash-challenged consumers interested in signing up or maintaining their memberships. This is why communicating a chain¹s or location¹s benefits either through mass media or some well-placed promotional products is perhaps more important than ever.

For the first eight months of 2010, the entire gym and health-club category was much more frugal with advertising spending. Overall, category spending was down 30% to $81 million, per the Nielsen Company. TV ads were the preferred medium, as chains spent $62 million to blast their messages on the tube.

“Gym and health clubs that want to engage customers will have to get their messages out in the most effective way,” says Robert Passikoff, president of the marketing consultancy Brand Keys. “Widgets, tweets and text messages aside, mass media is still an effective way to get the message out.” In order to make these dollars count, health clubs like Curves work to create a point of differentiation. In September, Curves began touting itself not only as a fitness center, but also as a diet plan. The 10,000-plus location chain introduced its 30-day diet plan in a new ad campaign that shows a Curves trainer explaining how it works.

Since gyms are social in nature, they rely heavily on person-to-person marketing to spread the word. This is why promotional products can be very effective. “It allows them to add value to their users,” says Jason Ash, president of PacificHealth Laboratories, maker of the Accelerade sports drink and Forze health bars. “Free stuff is always good. In some instances the branded premium gets them impressions in places they cannot get into.” Gyms, in addition to promoting themselves, receive an extra source of revenue by letting companies like Ash’s offer their branded items to its clientele. The Core Performance Center in Santa Monica, CA, for example, offers its members a branded Adidas gym bag, a Sheraton gift certificate, a GoFit stretch band, an EAS shaker bottle and a Gatorade water bottle. Core Performance’s Katie Burke says these items offer value to the customer and branding outside of the gym. The clientele is usually an attractive bunch, no pun intended, and people will pay to get in front of them. Still, health clubs need to build their memberships to get to that point, and premiums can help do that. Club H Fitness worked with Bluetrack Inc., to come up with a program for its customers. It regularly hands out black dumbbell stress balls. “These promotional items are an effective and fun way to increase brand awareness,” says Michael Henderson, operations manager for Club H Fitness. “They’re fantastic giveaways at events that help us attract new members and are a constant reminder of us when they’re back home with our giveaway on their desk.”

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