Innovator Interviews: Crunch Fitness’ EVP of Marketing & Branding Chad Waetzig

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Brand Innovators caught up with Chad Waetzig, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Branding at Crunch Fitness, to discuss the gym's New Year's campaign, regional differences in gym-going behaviors since the pandemic hit and how the brand’s No-Judgement foundation is part of the new effort.

Crunch Fitness has kicked off a new campaign to encourage consumers to get back to the gym in 2021.  But unlike the usual New Year’s workout campaigns, this year the brand has toned down its irreverent voice for a more team-oriented perspective.

The tagline “You Can Crunch With Us” encourages people to work out when and how they feel most comfortable and offers a new year deal for new memberships for $9.95 a month.

“This year, we dialed down the irreverence and quirkiness of the campaign, and created the campaign, ‘You Can Crunch With Us,’ which communicates that you can have a hard, fun, engaging workout, but that the COVID-19 protocols are here,” said Chad Waetzig, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Branding at Crunch Fitness.

Forty-six percent of consumers said that exercising more was one of their resolutions, per YouGov, followed by eating a better diet and losing weight. But one of the big concerns around returning to the gym is whether or not it is safe, which is why Crunch has shifted its messaging to let people know that they take these concerns seriously.

“We take the health and safety of our team members, members, and the community very seriously,” added Waetzig. “We are an important contributor to public health. We wanted that to come through in the communication.”

The new campaign plays up the gym’s "Crunch Commitment" to creating "So Fresh and So Clean" gyms. These protocols follow local, State, Federal, and CDC guidelines for cleaning and sanitation, as well as gym layout to ensure ample space between members. Crunch Fitness’ Crunch-O-Meter gives members gym capacity updates online, provides staff with masks, everyone with hand sanitizer, and shares transparency on how frequently the gyms are deep cleaned and wiped down and how changes in the equipment layout facilitates social distancing.

Brand Innovators caught up with Chad Waetzig, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Branding at Crunch Fitness, from his home in New York to discuss the campaign, regional differences in gym-going behaviors since the pandemic hit and how the brand’s No-Judgement foundation is part of the new effort.

What is the strategy behind the new campaign?

The campaign for us this year is ultimately about driving new membership sales. But, if you step beyond the business objective, we want to make sure we remind consumers of everything that Crunch Fitness has to offer. Over the past year, the industry in total has seen a significant decline in total gym attendance. We have certainly seen a shift to streaming workouts and in-home workouts. All of that shifting and pivoting has been important for people to maintain their personal health. We certainly support that, we even have our own streaming product.

At the same time, we see a wear-out effect of people working out independently at home via a streaming app. For a large group of the population, they get their motivation and energy to work out by going to the gym. Crunch Fitness has a diversity of experiences which you can’t really get anywhere else; you can’t get it at home, you can’t get it at other low-cost gyms. You have to have a lot of memberships at studios to replicate what you get at Crunch. That’s the objective of the campaign, to really communicate that in a way that is authentic and reinforces the safety and security protocols which we have put in place to address the pandemic.

How is it different from previous New Year's campaigns in these unique times for gym goers?

In the past, a Crunch Fitness campaign would have been focused on the benefits and experiences we provide, but we tend to do it in a tone of voice that is quirky, irreverent, and humorous. As we thought about the campaign this year, we decided that the messaging needed to be more about the community we create. We are not about socializing, we are about exercising. We want to get people into the gym to feed off the energy of others even if they are working out independently.

Who are you targeting and what media buys are you making to reach this audience?

Our targeting approach is not any different than in prior years. Our planning has become much more week-to-week and month-to-month in terms of our investments, but the targeting doesn’t really change. We are one of the most hyper-local businesses you can find. Most consumers will not travel more than 10 minutes to go to a gym. In fact, 10 minutes is the outer-limit. Depending on the market, 10 minutes can be a 10-block walk, it can be a 10-mile drive.

We are still hyper-local focused in our targeting. We tend to target adults ages 20-34. That’s the primary age group, the largest group of consumers that belong to gyms. Every market is going to be different in terms of ethnicity. In certain markets, we target the LGBTQ community. We have clubs in predominantly black markets, predominantly white markets, Asian-American markets, we have a strong Latinx base. That type of demographic targeting really varies depending on the market itself.

Traditionally, people often choose gyms near their offices, in addition to homes. With people working from home, is their behavior focused more on gyms based close to their homes and not their offices?

I think it has shifted. Again, it really depends on the market. We are a national brand, we are in the northeast (New England), southeast, West Coast (California), and really everywhere in between. It depends on the COVID sentiment in a market. There are certainly many markets in which people have gone back into the office, a much more open market. Where I am, in the New York City area, the vast majority of people are working remotely. We have certainly seen people shift their gym membership, from a gym closer to their office to a gym closer to their home. But, it does depend on the market.

How does this campaign support the company's overall branding pillars?

Crunch Fitness has always been known as the original ‘No-Judgement’ gym. It’s a core part of our DNA and our culture. By creating a campaign that really focuses on diversity, the diversity of experiences, the diversity of our member base, and the sense of community, it really supports the things that Crunch has always been about. We have always supported a diverse, open-minded community. We try to create a culture of ‘Fun’ with room for everyone. The ‘Fun’ piece is important, because we firmly believe that for most Americans, most people, exercising, if not done right, can become boring and the motivation will wane. We firmly believe that if you can create an environment and classes and experiences that are fun and engaging, people will keep coming back. We think this campaign really showcases that diversity and that fun, and room for everyone. At the end of the day, we are about encouraging, empowering, and entertaining people, as well as inviting people to come in and reach their goals with us. This campaign supports that, just in a different tone of voice than we have done historically.

Because we are a franchise concept, we really think about planning in two different buckets. We have a brand marketing fund, which all the gyms pay into, and then we do some national media planning on behalf of those clubs. Our core focus this year is really to make sure that we are providing the right blocking and tactics for these clubs. We focus on paid-search, search engine optimization, retargeting, and leveraging paid social to build awareness and generate leads. That approach has been consistent for the past several years. However, the planning now is on a week-to-week basis, because the public health and elected officials in various jurisdictions may change the requirements for gyms and health clubs (how long they can be open, if they can be open at all, occupancy restrictions, the shut down of certain offerings, etc.).

We have to be nimble and flexible within the planning and execution to turn those things on and off. We provide a three month recommendation for our franchisees, in terms of how they should think about their marketing, whether it’s grassroots marketing, local media buys, events, promotions, etc. Then, our marketing team at the corporate level will work directly with franchise owners to adjust and adapt their plans on a weekly basis depending on what happens in their jurisdiction.

After a year that required a lot of pivoting, how are you approaching marketing plans for 2021?

If I could accurately predict how 2021 would shape up, I would leave this job and make a lot of money being a crystal ball reader. Anyone who makes a guess is just guessing. That being said, we are encouraged by the vaccine rollout. Our ability as a nation to build up our herd immunity directly correlates to the rebound of health club, gym, and fitness facilities. I think we are realistically in this current situation until this summer, but we hope that by the summer or early Fall, we will return to pre-COVID consumer behavior, the return of the economy, getting people back to work and getting back on with everyone’s lives. We think that gyms are a great source for people to deal with stress and anxiety, not to mention the Quarantine 15, and we think gyms will be a great place for that. We are ready to open our doors when people are ready to come back.

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