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Equinox’s Pursuit of the Already Fit

Some people have taken issue with Equinox's often provocative ad campaigns, but have they taken a look at what they themselves are doing to send a different message?

Equinox recently released its 2019 ad campaign. The New York-based company, known for its provocative ads, seems to have toned down this year’s campaign. This year’s theme: “It’s not fitness. It’s life.”

I can get behind that theme and the video the company released to promote that idea much more than I did the overly sexualized images that Equinox used in many of its previous campaigns.

The company’s 2008 campaign (with the theme Happily Ever) featured an almost naked man bent over backwards at a party surrounded by scantily clad women, a man picking a scantily clad woman who has not had plastic surgery over other scantily clad women who had had plastic surgery, a “cougar” (as in older, attractive woman) about to blow out candles on what must be her birthday cake being touched by two men and leered at by two others—none of whom, surprisingly, are scantily clad.

The 2010 campaign promoted “confidence” by showing a woman in an unbuttoned shirt showing her lace bra surrounded by Polaroids of her body parts, “balance” promoted by a shirtless man dipping a woman at the edge of a pool, “agility” promoted by a pair of toned and naked female legs in high heels hanging out of a car window, and “dexterity” demonstrated by a woman in a skin-tight short dress on her hands and knees on top of a pool table. (The last one inspired protests when it was plastered on a billboard. It was eventually removed.)

The 2012 campaign featured a man in boxer shorts straddling a half-naked woman on a couch and a woman in a bikini straddling a motorcycle while wearing a helmet, among other provocative images.

Its 2014 Equinox Made Me Do It campaign was less sexualized, but it was edgy, featuring—among other images—a man in a suit jumping over a barbed-wire fence and a woman in a bikini being forced to leave a posh country club by security.

Its 2016 campaign, Commit to Something, went back to a more sexualized nature, featuring two almost nude women and three almost nude men lying together on a bed, a shirtless man standing in front of cheerleading trophies, a woman in underpants and a tank standing in a kitchen full of hairless cats, and a man in his underwear lying on a couch in a pile of money.

In 2017, the company re-envisioned its Commit to Something campaign “as an intimate, provocative and deeply moving exploration of personal identity,” according to a release from the company.  

“… the campaign confronts current cultural issues and asserts that commitment has the power to define who we are in the deepest sense,” the release noted.

Despite the 2019 campaign being less sexualized (at least in the video—I haven’t seen any still images yet), the campaign still sends this message to me: only the already-fit are welcome inside of Equinox.

I could be wrong. Equinox may have a bunch of research showing that ads like this are aspirational and pull all sorts of overweight and unhealthy people through their doors in hopes that someday they will look like the people in the Equinox campaigns. But I doubt it. Before I was an avid exerciser, these ads would have frightened me away from ever stepping foot inside an Equinox. Even as an avid exercise, I’m not sure I would be comfortable working out at Equinox if everyone inside looks like these people and are fit enough to swing from trapeze bars, do backflips and dance like a professional ballet dancer.

But this year, the campaign did make me take a step back and ask, is it really such a bad thing that Equinox targets the already fit? Every health club has its niche. Equinox knows its niche. Equinox is targeting that niche with these ads. Planet Fitness knows its niche—people who are not fit and who are intimidated by most health clubs. Planet Fitness targets that niche with its ads.

Equinox Holding Company, which owns Equinox, also owns Blink Fitness, which goes after the less fit market. Blink is a lower-priced brand that advertises its philosophy of Mood Above Muscle. Blink branding promotes that it “celebrates the positive feeling you get from exercise, not just the physical benefits.” 

So should other health clubs criticize Equinox for promoting to the masses its message that those who wear a size XXL, XL or L (oh, heck, even a size M) may not be welcome inside its doors, or should other health clubs instead take up the mantle, like Planet Fitness has, to instead show that those who wear a size XXL are exactly who they want?

You must decide who you want to attract. You must determine how you are going to market to this group. You must ensure that your staff has the skills to work with whatever group you want to attract—and that your staff members reflect that group.

Just know that Equinox has it easier than you do if you decide to go after those who aren’t already fit. How much effort does it take to attract people who are already obsessed with working out? Probably just a splashy video and some provocative images. But how much effort does it take to attract through your doors someone who is overweight, has never worked out and is intimidated by the thought of a gym? Quite a lot.

But think about it this way. How much more will your impact be in the world if you target those who are unfit rather than those who are already fit? Considerably more. Equinox may be able to get the already fit to spend more to belong and to spend more on ancillary services, but you will be affecting the lives of people who truly need you to improve the quality of their lives. Because, pardon me for this Equinox, but “It’s not fitness. It’s life.” 

For more about how to reach the obese market, download our free report, “America’s Obesity Crisis and the Fitness Industry’s Role in Resolving It.”

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