Every January, health clubs try extra hard to get new members in the door. This year, a couple of gyms have managed to ruffle feathers in the process with their shocking advertising endeavors.
Upscale fitness franchise Equinox’s latest campaign, shot by controversial fashion photographer Terry Richardson (read about his scandalous past), has recently attracted backlash. The campaign, titled “It’s not fitness. It’s life” features ultraskinny models applying the skills they honed in the gym to everyday life. One ad with the caption “Brainpower” features an underwear-clad woman reclining beneath a shirtless man. Another portrays a woman performing a yoga-esque pose in eveningwear as a man videotapes her with the statement “Flex Appeal” written underneath. Though some people have expressed that the ads degrade women, it’s not primarily the sexual imagery that has people up in arms—it’s the size of the models.
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Members have taken to the company’s Facebook page to voice disapproval with the runway-types appearing in the ads, writing comments such as: “The women you have in your photos do not look like they are in shape but rather a tad anorexic, which is not healthy;” and “This photo is not only in incredibly poor taste but also downright offensive in how not-healthy or fit that splayed-out woman looks.”
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Overseas the Circuit Factory, a Dubai gym, generated widespread ire with a promotional image posted to Facebook that featured a black and white photo of concentration camp Auschwitz. Under the image a caption read, “Kiss your calories goodbye.”
The image has since been removed, and the gym’s founder, Phil Parkinson, has issued an apology for the incident. “I apologize if I have offended anyone with the campaign. That was certainly not my intention when we created it,” he told The National . Parkinson has also agreed to donate money to an undecided charity to make up for the blunder.
Of course, neither of these health clubs was the first to strike a nerve with the public. A 2010 campaign for Cadbury House health club in England offended people with an ad that read, “When the aliens come, they will eat the fatties first!” The slogan was initially used by 24 Hour Fitness in San Francisco in 1999 and was as poorly received stateside. Also in the shaming and humiliating category, Dutch gym Fitness First generated discussion with its bus stop ad, which showed a bench that doubled as a scale and displayed the commuter’s weight publicly.
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Using nude and seminude images is hardly an uncommon practice among fitness clubs. In fact, Equinox has had a couple of other racy marketing strategies. A 2008 ad riled Catholics when it showcased a naked man posing in front of three women wearing nuns’ habits. Another Equinox ad that pictured buff women dressed in items like thigh-high boots and leather was removed from one New York City location in 2004 after neighborhood women complained. Similarly, a New York City community board took issue with David Barton’s ads, which featured a nearly naked woman next to its slogan, “Look Better Naked.” The board claimed the advertisements were pornographic and called for censorship.
What do you think: Have these gyms have crossed the line with their marketing? Let us know in the comments section below!