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Sports & Fitness

DR Packs a Punch

1 Jan, 2012 By: Jackie Jones Response

A healthy diet of direct response, diversification and multiplatform marketing helps longtime fitness advertisers endure.

The Thanksgiving leftovers are finally gone, and the holiday parties rich in food, booze and other indulgences have passed. The New Year’s champagne is depleted, and it’s time to get back to work.

And hit the gym.

Last year, 47 percent of consumers were expected to spend more on health-and-fitness-related products and services than in previous years, according to the American Express Spending & Savings Tracker. Post-holiday dieting and New Year’s resolutions will continue to boost the vertical at the dawn of 2012 as consumers bounce back from seasonal splurging and look to get fit.

“Fitness has always been a great seller in DRTV for several reasons. Need, greed and vanity have always been proven sellers in our business and it’s simply human nature to want to look good,” says David Baldassi, new business development manager at Toronto-based Northern Response Intl. Ltd., which handles sales of Body by Jake’s Tower 200. “At the same time, fitness is boring for a lot of people so to stay engaged requires changing up your routine and trying new things.”

Fitness has long been a staple in the world of direct response, both in long- and short-form, for a variety of reasons. The demonstrability afforded by DRTV goes far in aiding consumers’ intent to purchase, and any amount of financial strain can’t contend with people’s needs to look and feel their best. As the market has changed, fitness has still remained the dominant category in long-form, earning top Infomercial Monitoring Service (IMS) rankings for 2011. Popular products including Beachbody’s P90X, Insanity, TurboFire and 10-Minute Trainer all remained top sellers, while Total Gym by Total Gym Fitness, Zumba by Zumba Fitness, Emson Direct’s Ab Rocket Twister and the AB-Doer Twist by Thane Fitness also achieved high levels of success in long-form DR (Response, December 2011).

“Long-form has always been the traditional route for fitness because the ticket is higher and marketers need room to explain their products and show the need for them,” says Tony Little, a fitness infomercial veteran who gained fame with his Gazelle Elite glider, among other products. “It’s a very simple answer why DRTV is doing so well for this vertical. When the economy got bad, people made the effort to stay out of retail stores and what that does for the DR industry is give more eyes to the TV. Fitness has had a big year in DRTV sales; there’s been a lot of product, a lot of shows and everything seems to be hitting.”

That’s not to say that fitness hasn’t seen its share of success in short-form, as well. ICON Health & Fitness had a stellar year with the Pro-Form Ab Glider, and the Tower 200 commercials also struck a notable chord with consumers. While long-form tends to score more direct sales, short-form is a great drive to retail for the health-and-fitness vertical, according to many in the industry.

Multi-Platform Star Power

While fitness has always reigned king in DR, Northern Response utilized short-form to carve out a fresh route to success for the Tower 200, which is backed by five-time Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion Randy “The Natural” Couture, Baldassi says.

“Short-form worked right out of the gate on DR, and retailers quickly picked up the product,” he says of the Tower 200. “In addition to the DRTV sales, the media helped drive the retail sell-through. The success is evident in the results, and Tower 200 is now entering its third year at retail. The short-form is still on the air and we anticipate another year of strong sales in 2012.”

Once breaking through in retail, Northern Response drove continued in-store sales with deliberate packaging design, QR codes that linked to a microsite, an in-store video in the fitness section and dual-store placement both in fitness and end-caps.

“Northern Response commits heavily to co-op advertising to create product awareness and drive sell-through,” Baldassi says. “We also believe that with co-op advertising, you receive priority shelf placement. We routinely monitor the link with our media spend and our retail sell-through. We use a retail media model based on the number of retail doors against our media spend to determine the most effective use of our media dollars. In addition, we don’t get complacent when a product has been at retail for a few years. We freshen packaging, tweak the media or marketing, put in some value-adds, help create the next generation or develop additional SKUs for the line.”

The company’s marketing initiatives for the Tower 200 also included a variety of platforms to bring about product awareness and drive sales, according to Baldassi. The marketing company took an ample amount of time to test DR methods from both television and print, and put that into online initiatives.

“In addition to airing the pulse-pounding commercial aggressively, the price point and demographic gave us every indication that a large percentage of sales would be Web driven,” notes Baldassi, who adds that 80 percent of the product’s DRTV sales turned out to be Web-based. “Marketing is marketing, and while the medium and manner in which we deliver content may change, much of human behavior remains constant. Albeit, attention spans seem to be shorter these days with the barrage of messages the consumer receives, so you do have to find a way to cut through.”

Tower 200’s online marketing caters to purchasers on the go, incorporating video live chat and save-a-sale functionality.

“Consumers are in a hurry today, so fast and secure on-site processing, along with use of trust marks and seals of approval, gave consumers a sense of comfort in staying on site and ordering,” Baldassi says. “Emotion buys, but logic justifies, so we also have a good Q&A section in addition to providing as much information as possible and testimonials for social proof.”

A Diverse Diet

The perhaps undervalued hidden gem of online marketing is its ability to turn a one-time customer into a lifetime follower of your brand. This is especially true in the health-and-fitness space, where consumers may be in need of structure, motivation or an emotional push to do more with a product than simply purchase it, says John Abdo, creator of the AB-Doer Twist, which IMS ranked No. 34 in its list of top 50 infomercials of 2011.

“I’m a coach and motivator who just happened to invent a machine and turn into an infomercial guy. DRTV allows me to reach a much larger and different audience than I ever would have had access to, to share this product with,” Abdo says. “The marketers who are succeeding though are the ones who have the ability to motivate you beyond reading the manual and purchasing the product.”

Abdo’s attention to social media and his continued interaction with purchasers on a long-term scale have contributed significantly to the success of both the AB-Doer Twist and Abdo’s brand itself, he believes.

“The consumer today is a very educated one. They know what they want and don’t want, and they’re watching shows with a magnifying glass. Thanks to direct response and the health-and-fitness industry in general, there’s an increased awareness — even people who aren’t in shape know what they should or shouldn’t be doing. They don’t need education, they need the motivation.”

In addition to traditional DRTV used to sell the AB-Doer Twist, Abdo incorporates social-networking sites such as Facebook and his own website to connect with consumers interactively and after the point of purchase. Exercise tips, new routines and advice articles are often posted to keep things “diversified, versatile and refreshing,” Abdo says, and to guarantee a lifelong customer who will keep coming back as more products are released.

“Consumers in this space want the guidance, and also want to know that the marketers believe in the product and the lifestyle itself,” Abdo says. “I don’t want to just sell my customers a product — I want to sell them results.”

It’s important to note that DRTV still drives all other platforms, Little, “America’s Personal Trainer,” advises.

Neilsen Cable Network Rankings“More than 40 percent of my sales are Web-based, but TV still drives it. That’s where people are coming from and marketers can’t forget that part. Going strictly online without a TV component is not nearly as effective as a DRTV campaign,” he says. “DRTV is still the spaceship hovering above that controls everything else. It’s really the thing that drives all the other markets: mobile, social and E-commerce.”

While fitness and DR have been a good pair for many years now, marketers risk losing traction if innovation is undervalued, Little says.

“Fitness has gotten a tiny bit smaller recently only because there’s nothing too new. The stuff that works is working, but there needs to be some new blood, especially in the equipment category,” he says. “Short-form seems to have done well this year because there are more low-ticket items, but the big pieces that have always dominated DRTV have been less prominent because there’s nothing totally new out there.”

Diversification is crucial to staying ahead of the game in fitness, according to Little. He has recently expanded his brand into various lifestyle categories including sleepwear, footwear, watches and food, all with tie-ins to the fitness vertical. Post-exercise massage chairs and Little’s work building the Body by Bison brand have been particularly successful, he says.

“You really have to come out with a much more unique product than you did in the past,” Little says. “I started out strictly in fitness, but diversification caused our business to explode in 2011. Diversification and expansion has really been key to our successful branding.”

The fitness industry expects to see continued success — coupled with increased competition — in the coming years.

“We see continued growth in the fitness space in 2012 for anyone who embraces a complete direct response strategy, delivers quality products and provides great value for the consumer,” Baldassi says. “There are a lot of macro events that could affect how the consumer spends their hard-earned dollars this year, but good products with effective marketing will thrive. A good economy is one you are prepared for. If you’re playing catch up, are stagnant, or are hoping for the good old days of DRTV to return, you best pack it in now and save your money. We’re all going to have to work a little harder for the same nickel.”

And with the need for fitness not at risk of disappearing any time soon — at least 20 percent of every U.S. state’s population is now obese, with more youth being affected, according to Abdo — DRTV remains the perfect avenue for marketers to work hard in.

“Marketing can change and DR may evolve, and we have and probably will continue to go through tough financial times,” Abdo says. “But consumers don’t just want these products — they need them.”

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