Fitness brand campaigns push to new standards

As a marketing student, I am always paying attention to how brands advertise themselves. As a fitness fanatic, I am especially aware of the brand messages sent out by my favorite companies. Brands are no longer trying to just sell their products. They are trying to form relationships with consumers based on values to build lifelong loyalty.

The top two athletic brands in the country and arguably the industry are Nike and Under Armour. Nike has been the top of the line for years, but Under Armour’s success has been relatively recent with the launch of its “I Will What I Want” campaign. This campaign shred the masculine appeal of the company and embraced an approach geared towards women. No longer is the women’s section pink-ified, but it was strong. Fierce leading ladies like Misty Copeland and Lindsey Vonn promoted fitness through strength and not just appearance. This helped Under Armour land the second spot right behind Nike.

Under Armour’s newest campaign is “Rule Yourself.” As explained by an Under Armour sales associate, this means dominating your body to achieve your goals. This is gender-neutral and maintains the same “I Will” attitude. Compared to Nike’s famous “Just Do It,” it is slightly more intentional, but it has the same controlling attitude.

It seems that healthy lifestyles in America are polarized: either you are fat and lazy or you are controlled by your lifestyle. Increasingly, this attitude is leading to disordered eating and exercise addiction. I personally struggle with balance in living a healthy life, so I wonder how I am to find my own personal balance when this controlling attitude is so evident.

If we are ruling ourselves and forcing ourselves to just do a workout, are we really enjoying it? Some people need that extra motivation to achieve their fitness or health results, but given that the consumer is taking the proper steps to live a healthy lifestyle, this initial motivation is not necessary to sustain a healthy lifestyle over a long period of time. Since brands are trying to improve this lifelong relationship, maybe these approaches are not the best.

I am all about empowerment, and I have found my own personal emotional and mental power through fitness and my physical strength, but this initially led to unhealthy behaviors. To achieve my desired (aesthetic) results, I told myself to buckle down and get to work. No excuses. I did not treat myself, and I did not take rest days. I was miserable. The problem is that I had convinced myself so thoroughly that 100% commitment was the only way to succeed. It has been a long, tiring process to remind myself that health and success is possible while still taking it easy on myself. It was not just about a goal – it was about my mentality towards health and fitness.

By no means do I blame any brands, companies, or frankly anyone in particular for my own personal struggles, but I do think that society in general has polarized this industry. My ultimate goal would be for health to be infused in all industries for sustainable lifestyles. However, I do not live in my utopian society. It is going to take small steps to slowly change this stigma, but this can begin with these large companies.

It is crazy to me that these apparel companies are able to branch out beyond their products to engage consumers. For instance, Nike in Chicago is the first store in the country to offer a Nike Training Club experience. These free fitness classes and running groups are inspired to “Find Your Fast” which means to find your own personal strength. I personally love this idea, and I love how accessible this is. Whether it’s free or offered in the Nike+ app, everyone can access health.

Under Armour has taken a similar approach with its connectivity stations. Under Armour has its own app and owns similar popular apps like MyFitnessPal to help consumers achieve their goals in all areas of life. The Chicago location is also the first in the nation to provide connectivity stations in-store, so clearly Chicago is the prime location to experiment with approaches to healthy lifestyles.

Social media fads will not last forever though. These top brands are going to have to constantly find new ways to connect with consumers through values. I can only hope that a more holistic approach to health will grow in popularity.

Originally published on MyBroadMedia in November 2015.

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