THE WEEKLY HOWL IS THINKING ABOUT THE CHILDREN

Tell a story: There’s been a lot of coverage of virtual reality entering the world of fitness. For the most part, fitness VR seems to be simplistic, task-oriented games akin to Angry Birds. Despite the breathless coverage that they receive, I have wondered how much staying power these games will have. I’m sure that they’re fun and different at first but how quickly will the novelty wear off and people get bored again? How can you avoid this problem? By telling a story. From io9:

The Darebee Resource, a non-profit fitness site that features a lot of nerd-based workouts, has come out with its latest role-playing game that mixes storytelling and fitness. The futuristic space opera story is set in a world where humanity has colonized space and corporations basically run everything. It takes place over 30 days, or chapters, with body-resistance exercise moves designed to match what’s happening in each chapter. I’ve started the first day and things are already off at breakneck space.

              People respond to stories. They keep coming back to hear the rest of the story. If you want someone to pay attention to what you’re talking about, weave a narrative into it. Creating narrative-based VR games will not be cheap. But it will have a much better retention rates than task-based games. The other option is racing or fighting games where you’re competing against people. Like a VR version of Streetfighter. That would be a lot cheaper and the head to head competition aspect could be very compelling.

Gym Tech: Fitness is a physical activity. As much as technology is devouring our lives and society, fitness can never exist solely in the digital world. But it would be a mistake to think that technology isn’t going to play a critical role in the future of fitness. From Fortune:

One way to keep customers coming back is keeping them accountable. Several fitness companies have introduced systems that gather detailed data about their customers. In the case of cycling studios, that means tracking things like speed and calories, while clients at Orangetheory, a boutique gym that offers a high-intensity workout, receive monitors to track their heart rates. People “get hooked on” results, says Orangetheory CEO Dave Long.

Technology is also helping fitness companies get into customers’ heads—sometimes literally. Flywheelers can “follow” each other’s performance in a Twitter-like fashion. And Equinox saw users of its “digital coach”—a bot embedded in its mobile app that “learns” from a customer’s activities and goals—check in 40% more than nonusers during a six-month pilot program. The chain has also given Halo Neuroscience headsets, which claim to neurologically “prime” the brain and help muscles adapt more quickly, to members of its Tier X personal training program.

Leondakis says she believes Equinox will soon enjoy a flourishing digital community. (Not unlike, say, the one created by Strava, a popular running and cycling app that markets itself as a social network for athletes.) Armed with the data from geolocating “beacons” installed in the chain’s facilities—there are 10 such locations to date—Equinox is able to know what kind of exerciser you are (Runner? Bench presser?) and nudge you toward certain activities.

 

            Most gym operators don’t know what their members do in their clubs. There is a lot of potential for technology that would allow operators to track usage of equipment. An indoor Strava seems very like a very ambitious goal for Equinox but I have been surprised before by the strength of the Equinox brand and its members’ devotion to it. No mention of the Apple Watch or wearables in general? I wonder if that was by design. Apple has started to partner with the equipment manufacturers. Maybe the gym operators are worried that they are getting left out and need to craft a tech strategy independent of Apple.

 

How to scam people and make money: Health and wellness are thriving right now which means that the scammers are out in force in order to separate people from their hard-earned money. What is the newest crap that people are wasting their money on? Apparently, it’s sweat lodges. From The Ringer:

To achieve this healthier, happier, brighter future, customers change into thin, grubby gray sweat suits provided by Shape House and are then nestled into what appears to be a weighty sleeping bag within a private booth by courteous attendants, with alkalized water placed at arm’s length. Headphones are provided to watch television as the bag heats up, lest anyone swelter without entertainment. (Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and a variety of other streaming services are available; I was also allowed to keep my phone.) Selena Gomez swears by it; Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian filmed a scene from Keeping Up With the Kardashians from within Shape House’s glowy, orange-tinted confines. The company has been successful enough business-wise to gain these ardent celebrity fans and to expand from Los Angeles to Manhattan this year. (Although, alas, not successful enough to come up with a better description for itself than “urban sweat lodge.”)

             

              I realize that getting really sweaty during a work-out makes you feel like you’re working very hard but this is ridiculous. Sweating is not the goal or the source of the benefit of exercise. It is a side effect. Just sweating a lot is not going to make you any healthier. What are these “urban sweat lodges” telling their customers?

 

When we talked on the phone, Hew-Butler was nonplussed by many of the claims Shape House makes about its treatments, particularly the claim that it can confer benefits similar to the cardiovascular advantages of going on a 10-mile run. “The only thing that might be plausible is that you would sweat similarly to running 10 miles,” she said. The claims about skincare benefits also left her skeptical. “You’re secreting a substance that is more water than salt, so maybe that in itself is cleansing,” she said. The “cleansing” benefits of sweating appear to boil down to the fact that your face gets wet.

 

              How does that make sense? That the act of sweating alone is equivalent to running 10 miles. How would that work? What do people think that fitness is? This is why we need fitness education in schools.

Marketing: I saw something a few months back about Orangetheory’s marketing AI. It was sparse on details but I was very intrigued by it. Now Digiday has gone in-depth on how it has changed Orangetheory’s marketing strategy for the better:

Since high-end gym Orangetheory launched its AI platform in December, the gym franchise has decreased its cost per lead from $20 to $8, according to Kevin Keith, chief brand officer at Orangetheory. As such, the growing company has quadrupled its media spend, with a majority of it directed toward AI. Keith said AI isn’t only bringing down costs but also producing more high-quality leads — 218 percent more, in fact.

              That was fast. Looks like this program is paying off already. It brought down the cost per lead by 60% and doubled the amount of high-quality leads. Those are numbers that any marketer would kill for. But exactly how is it accomplishing this?

For example, Orangetheory believed its main target audience was women around the age of 35 who made an annual income between $80,000 to $100,000. Its smaller target was 36-year-old men who made a similar income. However, in the past two months, Orangetheory found it has more of a following among younger audiences, specifically 18- to 25-year-old women and men. The gym also discovered a majority of its audience comes from sports, especially college sports, and music platforms over others focused on passion points like health and wellness.

             

              I have bemoaned the fact that fitness is not the smartest industry out there. Kudos to Orangetheory for making me feel foolish because this is exacty the sort of thing that I would like to see more fitness companies do. Leverage technology to create a sophisticated marketing strategy in order to drive meaningful growth. What did  Orangetheory’s old marketing plan look like?

 

“We’re learning to be not as overly reliant on Facebook,” said Keith. “We have seen somewhat of a decrease in Facebook as their algorithm has changed, which we’re monitoring. This is why it’s important to also do brand storytelling outside of Facebook and leverage PR and content integrations.” Orangetheory plans on integrating itself into content that is “ingrained in culture,” according to Keith, such as being part of the storyline of a Netflix or Amazon show. It also plans on using OTT targeting on Apple or Samba TV.

When Keith joined Orangetheory in February 2017, the gym mostly relied on Facebook retargeting and word of mouth to get its name out there. But Keith, who had previously worked as the chief strategy officer at JWT Atlanta and as a brand strategist at Coca-Cola, saw how AI was beginning to permeate the marketplace. So last July, Orangetheory began working with its agency The Tombras Group on an AI platform for use in media planning and buying.

              Facebook and word of mouth. That probably describes a lot of companies. And for a startup, its understandable because that’s cheap. But as a company matures, its marketing should evolve as well. So Orangetheory’s Chief Brand Officer used to work at Coca-Cola. This is the sort of stuff that Coca-Cola and Pepsico excel at. It’s good to see Mr. Keith using his powers for good and not for evil anymore. There’s a lot more to life than selling sugar water.  If you have the time, follow the link and read the whole article.

Think of the children: So a well-known fitness blogger is selling fitness DVD’s targeted towards children ages 1-6. Is this really necessary? Probably not. But is it controversial? Of course, it is.

However, Christine Morgan, CEO of The Butterfly Foundation, an organisation dedicated to people with eating disorders and negative body image, does not think the videos are a good idea.

Speaking to Mamamia about Ashy and Friends, Morgan said: “I think it's a marketing ploy to adults and to parents who have been inundated with the messaging of:  do not let your child get fat. In this time, when obesity is threatening, don't let your child get fat. And since when did that translate into a toddler having to be so concerned about putting on weight? That to me is just taking it too far.” 

Morgan continued: "Even if they don't understand it at the time, that subliminal messaging is going to go in, and all of the concerns about shape and size, at the earliest, earliest age, and the damage that can be done by that is just astounding."

             

              I have not seen these videos but it seems like there are people who believe that promoting fitness is the same as fat-shaming. Ms. Morgan asks when did children have to become so concerned about their weight and the answer is when childhood obesity skyrocketed in this country. Obese children become obese adults. The best thing that we can do is build healthy habits in our children. I don’t think that work-out DVD’s are the way to go but we never really know until someone tries it. The junk food companies believe in hooking them young. Those of us in the fitness industry should be thinking the same thing.

 

Recovery: If you follow any athletes on social media, then you probably have at least a passing familiarity with cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is basically flash-freezing the body with liquid nitrogen. The idea is that the extreme cold stimulus results in the body rushing extra blood to the skin. This extra blood reduces inflammation and speeds recovery due to the extra oxygen and nutrients in the blood. But is it a good idea to mess with the body’s recovery process like that? From Men’s Journal:

But here’s the biggest knock against cryotherapy: “You don’t always want to stop that inflammation response after a workout,” says Michael Fredericson, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Stanford University ­Medical Center. When you exercise, muscle tissue breaks down, activating the body’s healing response. Yes, that causes soreness, but it also means the growth of healthier, stronger tissue. “If you blunt that response, you’re probably not getting as much benefit from the workout,” says Fredericson.

Those who swear by cryotherapy could be experiencing the placebo effect. Their exhilaration might not be top-speed muscle repair but the same rush that a dip in an ice-cold pool provides, says Fredericson. Speaking of which, there’s nothing to suggest that a cryo chamber is more effective than an ice bath, which sports doctors recommend sparingly, says Dominic King, a sports medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic. Ice is best for acute injuries, such as sprained ankles, to reduce swelling and pain, King says. As for whole-body treatments, we’re still waiting on some cold, hard facts.

              The body knows what it’s doing. Messing with its natural processes must have a price. I know it’s always tempting for athletes to look for an edge, legal or otherwise, but every action has a reaction. You try to skip the body’s healing response, there must be an equivalent reaction.

Brand Building: The evolution of the CrossFit ecosystem is a source of fascination for me. Watching companies like Rogue Fitness and the Chicago Bar Company grow out of the CrossFit community and alter the entire fitness and nutrition landscape has been remarkable. Let’s not forget about the OG’s, the affiliates. It’s been interesting to see some of the affiliates work to build their own brands underneath the CrossFit umbrella. CrossFit Invictus in San Diego has been of the most successful affiliates and now they’re expanding to the East Coast. From Morning Chalk-Up:

Over the next few weeks, CrossFit Back Bay and CrossFit Fenway will begin transitioning into Invictus Boston. Both gyms will operate out of their individual locations as CrossFit Invictus Back Bay and CrossFit Invictus Fenway.

C.J. Martin and Josh Plosker, former co-founder of Back Bay and Fenway who will head up Invictus Boston, said “we couldn’t be more excited. We are so well aligned on our goals as business owners and what we’re trying to create in our communities. We really want to create communities where we provide [athletes] education, support and encouragement for anybody of any ability level.”

              The Invictus management must believe that its brand is nationally recognized. I’ve been trying to think of another example of companies building a sub-brand like this. And Invictus must be very glad that they they had the prescience not to name their box after its location. That’s such a limiting factor for CrossFit NorCal.

TidBits:

-Spotify says that Eminem song is #1 work-out track

-This doesn’t seem like a great idea

-The Army wants to make its new fitness test gender neutral

-The USMC is going to allow Marines to row 5K instead of running 3 miles in its fitness test

-The CrossFit Open has begun and will run through March 26