The Zumba Revolution1 Jul, 2014 By: Thomas Haire Response
“Direct response marketing has taught me a lot about human behavior,” says Alberto Perlman, CEO and co-founder of Zumba Fitness LLC, the international brand based in Hallandale Beach, Fla. “Through DR, we recognized a new opportunity for people who may be unfit or uncomfortable with themselves to start exercising — and it’s really a beautiful thing.”
By joining forces in 2001 with celebrity trainer Beto Perez and fellow entrepreneur Alberto Aghion, Perlman helped bring Zumba Fitness to the masses. Thirteen years later, Zumba® is the world’s largest fitness brand, boasting more than 15 million class participants each week in 200,000 locations across more than 180 countries. The phenomenon was launched and has continued to grow partially due to a series of DR campaigns for its Zumba Fitness At Home line of DVD products, as well as major events, entertainment and celebrity tie-ins and — when it comes down to it — its success rate.
“Zumba is really known for producing the most significant transformations,” Perlman says. “Some programs help you lose 20 pounds — Zumba helps you lose 120 pounds. A great example of this is Zumba instructor Charita Smith, who was featured on the season premiere of ABC’s ‘Extreme Weight Loss’ in May. She lost more than 120 pounds through Zumba Fitness DVDs and classes — and became an instructor because of her love for dance. The Zumba workout really can transform lives.”
Zumba Fitness’ combination of exhilarating, high calorie-burning fitness parties featuring simple dance moves — along with motivating music — make the workouts feel like “exercise in disguise,” according to the company. It was Perez who stumbled upon the mix that’s made Zumba famous nearly 30 years ago.
An Improvisational Twist
In 1986, Perez was working as a fitness instructor in his native Cali, Colombia. As he headed to teach an aerobics course, he realized he’d forgotten his traditional aerobics music. Improvising, Perez used a mix of music from tapes he was carrying in his backpack — an array of salsa and merengue.
He found that this new mix took the focus off of counting reps and moving to the music — and the class loved it, as energy filled the room. For the next 13 years, Perez worked with this concept, perfecting it before bringing it to the United States in 1999, when he began teaching classes in Miami.
As word spread about Perez’s success, Perlman and Aghion caught wind of the craze. “I have always been an entrepreneur at heart,” Perlman says. “I had gotten out of the Internet business amidst the dot-com bubble burst and, in 2001, I saw a revolutionary class being taught that showed me there was a gap in the market for ‘fitness without sacrifice’ — exercise that you want to do, not that you have to do. In 2001, we formed Zumba Fitness and began selling the Zumba workout through an infomercial.”
Consumer response was almost immediate, as the Zumba workout exploded into a huge business. “To date, we have sold more than 25 million DVDs and helped people in 180 countries shed weight and become healthier mentally and physically,” Perlman says.
Those DVD sales have driven something even bigger, though — 200,000 locations worldwide where millions of people can take one of more than 10 types of Zumba workouts, designed for all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens.
The company has licensed instructors worldwide, first through Zumba Basic 1 Instructor Training and then with the opportunity to become trained in any of the additional specialties.
While helping build this massive fitness entity, though, Perlman has maintained leadership over many of the company’s social and charitable efforts.
“As CEO, I oversee the entire company. I also developed our social responsibility ‘Zumba Love’ platform and spearheaded an ongoing relationship with Susan G. Komen, creating the Zumba Global Research Grant for Breast Cancer Prevention, the first ever medical research grant named for the Zumba program,” he says. “To date, we have raised more than $8 million through our social fundraising arm with the help of our amazing instructors all over the world.”
But, at the end of the day, Perlman says that the genesis of Zumba’s worldwide success — and the opportunity for the company to support such worthy causes — was the combination of direct response and Zumba class experiences.
A DR Backbeat Provides the Jump Start
“Our primary DR campaign has been our infomercial, which we’ve run (in different variations) for the past 14 years,” Perlman says. “The campaign has driven millions of people to Zumba classes, as well as purchasing more than 25 million DVDs. We believe people who exercise at home also end up taking classes in gyms — and vice versa — so that drives a lot of our DR sales.”
In the U.S. — and soon, internationally — the Zumba® Incredible Results™ program is its current DVD product. It’s the fifth consumer DVD collection from the company, which includes six workout programs on four DVDs.
“We based our most recent campaign on the idea of transformations and results. We asked for testimonials for our infomercial and received such incredible stories,” Perlman says. “These were such dramatic and impressive transformations, so we decided to name the new DVD collection ‘Incredible Results.’”
Perlman says the initial concepts behind the Zumba Fitness program are still key to its success today, especially with its current DR offerings. “We recognize that we have this purpose in the world to help all these people who have tried traditional options, or have bee
n too intimidated to exercise for may types of reasons, and we have this opportunity to transform their lives in a fun and inclusive way,” he contends. “An opportunity that allows the walls to come down and a place where they can just completely let loose.”
It’s hard to argue with the success that idea has enjoyed for the Zumba Fitness team. At the same time, the company has created other aspects of its business to complement the success of its DR marketing efforts and the power of its worldwide class experience.
Creating the Rhythm of Success
While the company has had successful relationships with celebrities that have “found Zumba on their own as a great tool for weight loss,” it’s found that those celebrity tie-ins aren’t perfect for their DR campaigns.
“In the past, we have had celebrities like Vivica A. Fox and Stacy Keibler in our infomercials, but the truth is that we’ve learned that consumers want to see reflections and maybe aspirational versions of themselves,” Perlman says. “Celebrities can often be viewed as unachievable. When we include celebrities in our DR campaigns, it doesn’t make an impactful difference. But outside of that, they do drive a lot of demand for DR products, so we integrate this aspect through PR, social media and other various marketing tactics.”
However, with music as the backbone of every Zumba workout, it’s no surprise that Perlman, Aghion and Perez have capitalized on that connection with extensive celebrity success.
“We have created a music platform through Zumba where our instructors act as DJs, predicting and helping to spread music across 200,000 locations and to 15 million ears on a weekly basis,” Perlman says. It’s been so successful that, he adds, “Billboard Magazine named Zumba as ‘the next music platform’ a couple of years ago.”
This success — and the millions of followers Zumba has cultivated over the years — also has attracted some of today’s biggest artists. “They see it as a great way to get their music heard and reach new audiences. Pitbull, Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Lil Jon, Shakira — and the list goes on and on,” Perlman says. “Musicians try to find a way to promote their music; they see Zumba and its power.”
In fact, the Zumba Fitness team has a hand in two of today’s biggest hit songs, one of which is incredibly timely. “We introduced Pitbull to Brazilian superstar Claudia Leitte,” Perlman says. “We are very happy for them as they collaborated with Jennifer Lopez on the official 2014 World Cup song called ‘We Are One,’ which is a huge hit!”
Additionally, Zumba Fitness is working on a social media campaign with Shakira to promote her newest single, “Dare (La La La).” “We asked Zumba fans to submit 15-second choreography videos on Instagram with the hashtag #ZumbaDare,” Perlman says. “We reached more than 15 million people with this contest on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to help Shakira promote her song. The winner will get an all-expense paid trip to Miami to record the official ‘Zumba Dare’ choreography video with Beto Perez, and Shakira is promoting it on her website and social media pages.”
But Zumba’s investment in the music world isn’t limited to working with established stars. “We also create our own music and our own artists for Zumba,” Perlman says. “We have a concert platform called ‘Fitness Concerts’ that showcase concert lighting, live music and performances by Beto Perez and other instructors from around the world. We perform these concerts all over the world for audiences of up to 10,000 people. It’s like a massive concert, but everyone is dancing in unison. We also offer this experience on our DVDs.”
And the company also brings its instructors together at a “variety of B-to-B style events” throughout the year, Perlman adds. “Specifically, we host the largest fitness instructor convention in the U.S. in Orlando every August,” he says. “We have more than 6,000 instructors convene for a four-day education experience with training, master classes and learning sessions. We have presenters who are well known all over the world among our instructor community leading the classes. They are also the stars in our DVDs, infomercials and training materials provided to our instructors for continuing education purposes.”
Zumba Fitness has mixed direct response marketing, social media, music and the expansion of its trainer program expertly to create a fitness giant. Perlman is quick to salute the company’s many agency and vendor partners for their role in the company’s success — “We have terrific relationships, all the way from fulfillment to media buying, and they are part of the Zumba family,” he says — while thinking back to the initial challenge of building the Zumba brand.
“It’s always challenging to build a brand with DR because a lot of DR marketers exaggerate the claims of their products, and it creates pressure to compete with those claims,” Perlman says. “Luckily, we’ve seen some infomercials similar to ours that are true to the brand. We never put the sale over our brand. As long as we maintain that, DR is good for branding. The bottom line: Zumba works. It’s fun exercise, and that’s what we offer consumers. Zumba is a ‘forever’ brand, given to the people. It provides long-term success while others provide short-term ‘quick fix.’” ■