// How to design advertising that gets a response

by Emmett Williams

Running a health club poses many challenges, but without a doubt one of the biggest concerns of independent clubs owners worldwide is the fact that markets are becoming increasingly hard to get a ‘response’ from. Club owners regularly comment that it is not like the ‘old days’ where throwing 10,000 flyers in the air would result in prospective new members lining up at their door.

Not only are more health clubs doing more marketing these days, but so are more businesses in general. An often-cited marketing statistic says the amount of advertising that consumers are exposed to in one day is the same amount our parents were exposed to in the entire year of 1950. Advertisers appear to be permeating every aspect of our lives – it can sometimes feel like we’re living in one giant ‘Times Square’ New York with billboards bearing down on us!

As advertisers ourselves, we need to accept this overcrowding and deal with it by being ‘sharper’ than our competition. We need to work on what we call ‘potency’. We need a stimulus out there on our flyers and newspaper adverts which will garner an immediate response. We call this Direct Response Marketing.

Contrary to what you may think, you don’t need to wear a pink tie, have a fancy city office and call people ‘darling’ to be good at advertising. It’s more of a science than that, a science which has resulted, thankfully, in a tried and tested formula that actually works.

Understanding the formula

In 1898 Elmo Lewis established the best-known formula in advertising – AIDA. This formula offers a robust and thorough way of moving any consumer through the process of ‘inducing a response’. If adhered to, it will take any advertiser a lot closer to sales revenue. So, let’s look at AIDA.

‘A’ is for attention. We need to muscle past all the other communication in the consumer’s world, and engage them. Sure, you may be able to solve their biggest problem, but it is no good telling them about it if they are not listening in the first place.

‘I’ is for interest. It is essential, once you have the consumer’s attention, to be interesting. Generally, people are very interested in themselves. The most interesting things to us revolve around our ‘needs deficiencies’. We have to ask ourselves, are consumers looking for basic physical things that would be grouped with the likes of food, water, shelter, and in the case of our product, fitness, or are they in search of psychological things like safety, belonging, status and self-esteem? Or, taking it a step further, is it the higher need they are trying to discover, that of self actualisation or self fulfilment? Establish the problem and make the consumer feel the problem – this will get their interest every time!

‘D’ is for desire. This step involves getting the consumer all fired up and excited by showing them that we have the solution to their problem. This is basically matching problem with solution. Snap!

‘A’ is for action. If you don’t take action, you are simply playing golf without the putter – you’ve got the ball to within inches of the hole but you won’t get it in! It is important to ask the consumer to respond and take the next step. Remember: they have a problem, you have the solution, and everyone wins if you can induce this final step.

The push and pull forces we must remember

So how can we apply this theory to fitness facility adverting? Well before we move into the 10 steps necessary to create an effective advert, we need to establish two crucial areas of understanding. Firstly, why people want a gym membership (what problem can we solve?); and secondly, why people get excited about the concept, but then put it off until tomorrow because they are not quite sure yet? (why they do not want a gym membership).

Top 7 reasons people join a gym

1. Stay healthy – The sedentary lifestyle that dominates our society and the associated problems of obesity, diabetes and heart disease are not problems that will go away. Triggers like a heart attack in the family will always make people think about their own mortality, their lifestyle and their standard of living.

2. Decrease stress –
The widespread use of e-mail, mobile phones and Blackberry’s, coupled with the fact that australians work longer hours than most other countries, mean that stress levels are increasing. And given the ‘keep up with the Jones’ mentality of society where we work ourselves into the ground to get ahead, this issue is not going away. Collectively, we are building up reservoirs of stress which are manifesting themselves in cancers, heart disease and other illnesses. Many people recognise the need to address this.

3. Lose weight – According to one report, in mid- 2008 Australia overtook the USA as the fattest nation on earth. The problem is, obese people don’t buy gym memberships, but overweight people do. These are two very separate markets. Over 50 per cent of Australians are either overweight or obese, so the opportunity for recruiting them as potential members is plentiful.

4. Look good – Even ‘healthy range’ people want to lose weight for reasons of vanity and self image. Vanity is a strong driver of our industry.

5. Perform one’s best – With energy, with endurance, with low stress levels we can all take on the world and achieve what psychologist abraham Maslow suggested was our common destiny; to be the best we can be.

6. Social contact – With phones/e-mail/text messaging/ Facebook it can appear as if we don’t actually need to talk to people any more. The thing is, we want to. In our busy lives, taking time out of work and home and interacting with the real world is what we desire. Having other people know your name is of very real importance to us.

7. Convenience – Make no mistake: 80 per cent of your members will come from within a 10-minute driving radius of your club. Our product needs to be convenient because people value their leisure time and don’t want to spend it in traffic.

Top 5 reasons people do not join a gym

1. Physique anxiety – This is where consumers are How to brand your intimidated by the fact they don’t ‘fit the group’. They feel as if they need to get into shape before joining the gym, which is like saying 'I need to get better before I go to the doctor’. These are grown adults feeling like it is the first day of school again, and feeling as if they will be rejected because their body is not like those of the other members. We need to appease this anxiety by showing consumers that our clubs are not full of Jennifer Hawkins’s and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.

2. Athletic anxiety – This is where consumers have a ‘fear rush’ about how to physically use the gym equipment. They remember how they made a fool of themself playing T-ball in grade 4, when they swung and missed the stationary ball all together. Consumers fear that the same thing will happen in the gym, that they won’t know how to use the equipment and will appear the fool.

3. Industry image – We often suffer from a ‘hard sell’ image whereby we are perceived as being too ‘harsh’ because the sale is based purely around a ‘get this deal now or MISS OUT forever’ approach. Such an approach fails to focus on professional selling, which includes genuine rapport, thorough needs profiling, an effective presentation of the solution and then an offer which will help the prospect get started immediately. NOTE: ‘Limited Offers’ are fine, so long as they are coupled with the other facets of professional selling. The problem occurs when the limited offer is the only facet of the communication.

4. They can do it themselves – These are the people who think walking around the block or riding a bike is sufficient and they don’t need a gym’s facilities.

5. Couch potatoes – These people are completely inactive and have no intention of joining a fitness facility.

By understanding these reasons we are able to employ the advertising skills necessary to work with them.

The 10 steps necessary to create an effective advert

The following ten steps are proven tactics from the broader realm of ‘direct response advertising’. When coupled with the push and pull forces of marketing in our industry, outlined above, they become very effective.

In the examples given throughout this manual, live examples have not been used, firstly for copyright issues, and secondly because the scope of this manual is not to go fishing for you, rather to teach you how to fish and let you develop your own advertising based on guidelines.

Step 1: The checklist
When designing any advert it is critical you communicate the following points. Here is a checklist for you to tick off every single time:

WHO are you? You need to be absolutely clear about what target market you are appealing to. Focus on one as if they need to get into shape before joining the gym, group, (i.e., the above 40 market) and use photos of which is like saying ‘I need to get better before I go to the this target market to communicate to the segment ‘hey, this is about YOU’. The more narrowly you target the deeper you will penetrate the market.

WHO am I?
This is an easy one – always remember to put your logo on your advertising.

WHAT is the product? Don’t get too tricky, be very clear about what you are selling; is it a gym membership, is it PT packs? Remember: consumers are exposed to a lot these days, cut straight to the chase.

WHEN do I act? Don’t let consumers ‘think about it’, because they will get distracted, they will become apathetic and you will need to spend another $200 per head to get them back on your next campaign. Is there a limited offer with a time deadline? There always should be (see Step 9).

How do I act? It might seem silly, but many adverts go to print and air with no phone number or clear contact information. You must be clear about how consumers should act in response to your ad, be it a phone call, a click on your web site or turning up to your facility on a certain day to claim the ‘7-day free membership’.

WHY should they act? This comes down to the consumer’s ‘needs deficiency’ as mentioned above. Notice that the 5 reasons people join a gym fits snuggly into this needs deficiency. Taking this further, we need to try and evoke emotion, with the five major reasons for buying being love, pride, fear, guilt and greed (see Steps 4, 6 and 8).

WHY are we giving the offer? Leveraging off a theme, such as ‘New Year – New You’ gives the promotion validity and distracts from the fact that you are doing it to generate sales revenue. Make no mistake, Myers leverage off Boxing day and it has nothing to do with clearing stock – in fact, they order more in for boxing day – it has everything to do with maximising sales revenue.

Step 2: The Z-flow
When consumers look at a printed page their eyes move in a Z-flow format. They enter at the top left, move in a ‘Z’ and then leave at the bottom right hand corner. When we roll out the AIDA formula we need to keep this top of mind. Grab attention at the top left, build interest and desire in the middle, then call the consumer to action in the bottom right-hand corner. This concept is also referred to as the ‘gravity of the page’.

Step 3: The headline
The headline is the ‘advertisement for the advertisement’ – it sells the advert. Studies show that for every five people who read a headline, only one will carry on to read the copy. The headline needs to pack a punch, get inside the consumer’s head and make them want to read more. Here are the top tips for writing an effective headline.

Self interest: ‘What’s In It For Me?’ Consumers don’t care about your business as much as they care about themselves. Dale Carnegie famously said that an individual’s own toothache is more important to them than a famine of 100,000 people on the other side of the world. The headline needs to appeal to the consumer’s very personal pleasure or pain.

Length of headline: Don’t get too caught up in having something ‘short and sharp’. Lengthy headlines have been proven to be just as effective.

Space allocated to headline: 20 to 25 per cent of the advert size should be allocated to the headline; it is that important. When people look at an advert they are first attracted to images, then size, then colour. Go big!

Capitals at start of each word!: Don’t ask why it makes it easier to read, but it has been proven in empirical testing as outlined in Step 10, so just go with it!

Dark on light: Given we are used to reading newspapers and the like this appears to be the most effective way of making a headline easy to read – and ‘ease’ is critical.

Use numbers 37 per cent of the time: Well, not exactly 37 per cent, I did that to prove the point that consumers love facts, and exact figures. They love learning. Don’t say ‘SAVE over $100’; be exact and say ‘SAVE $123.00 today’. If talking dollars, always use the dollar symbol and always use two decimal points when referring to ‘savings’. Conversely, when referring to ‘cost’ minimise the dollar sign, minimise the ‘cents number’ and in so doing, take the focus off the cost and put it on the saving.

Be simple: Don’t get too tricky, don’t use double meanings, don’t look for compliments in your wit – just clearly spell out what you are saying.

One target market only: Only try to appeal to one market at a time. Aiming too broadly will mean you won’t penetrate any market deeply enough. It won’t have the bite!

Selling words: Sprinkle words such as these which have been proven to incite strong consumer response.


Step 4: The bullets
Today’s fast-paced world has no time for vagueness – people want KILLER not FILLER. Use bullets in your advertising to get across key selling points which address either the 7 reasons people do want to join a gym, or the 5 reasons they don’t (as previously discussed). Furthermore, bullets need to go past just listing features, they need to create the ‘benefit link’ – which effectively turns features into something of value by imagining there is a link phrase/word ‘so what that means for you ...’. In the examples below the link has been underlined. It is the second half of the bullet which is of crucial importance.

•    New LCD monitors to make exercise fun
•    Qualified instructors to ensure you feel comfortable with the equipment
•    Open 24 hours for your convenience
•    Located near to your home for your convenience.

Step 5: The photo
Photos exert amazing influence. People are attracted by nice images, particularly those of other people, and eyes and smiles. Images of babies work all the time, but of course we need to keep in mind that in our case, the ‘image tool’ is best used when it represents the target market (meet checklist criteria).

There is an old saying that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’, and the best way to use images is, again, to communicate key selling points from the 7 reasons people do buy a membership, or the 5 reasons they don’t.

The image you use may be a smiling photo of a 43-year- old female being shown how to use the LCD TV monitor by a professional. Firstly, that image would point to who your target market is; secondly it would show them you have LCD TV screens on your cardio equipment; and thirdly, it would demonstrate that they will be supported and not left to feel foolish – in short, it is an effective image.

If possible, do not use images from a photo bank – rather, get photos of real people from your club. Reality has a lot of credibility.

Step 6: The caption
If a picture paints a thousand words, then a caption has a multiplier effect which helps make that photo tell 10,000 words. In Step 4 we looked at the importance of bullets and spoke about a ‘linkage’ being used to say ‘so what that means for you ...’ In the case of a caption the same rule applies; we need to use the caption to describe the photo and spell out what we are communicating. It is a guide to help embellish the image.

The social pages of the newspaper are easy to browse through because the pictures and captions quickly and easily tell a story.
success! ‘Sarah joined the club of a caption could be: 'Sarah joined the club because the LCD TV’s help make exercise fun, and the help from Tina meant that she found the equipment easy to use!’

Step 7: Colour
McDonalds use RED and YELLOW for one reason. Mercedes choose BLACK and SILVER for another reason. Why? Colour evokes emotion in the consumer – by itself it won’t achieve much, but used as a tool to set the ‘mood’ it is very effective. Have a glance through the table below and ask yourself what colours you think would be effective with your advertising.

When designing a strong call to action, use RED and YELLOW; it communicates urgency and is very attention grabbing.

Step 8: The testimony
This is an incredibly powerful tool for achieving two very important aspects of direct response advertising. Firstly, it acts as great ‘social proof’ for the consumer – it helps reduce buyer anxiety by showing that other people have purchased the product before them and experienced success with it. It also helps consumers connect with the product. If the testimony represents the target market and is ‘correctly’ worded, the consumer will get as close to ‘feeling’ the product as possible.

Again, when soliciting testimonies, you need to keep the 7 reasons FOR and the 5 reasons AGAINST buying a membership in mind. Don’t repeat what you have mentioned in the captions, however; use this space to evoke emotion.

The 5 major buying emotions are love, pride, fear, guilt and greed – try to use testimonies, which touch on as many of these as possible, e.g.,‘I have felt guilt for seven years now for not doing anything about my weight. It seemed crazy that I had not done anything because I always felt so scared of the camera on Christmas day. Finally, I took the first step and started exercising in the gym 9 months ago. I have lost 3 dress sizes and now have energy to burn. My kids are so proud of what I have done, and I can’t wait to get even more compliments as I head to size 12!' Gayle Robertson, New-found exercise enthusiast.

Step 9: The call to action
As an advertiser you spend so much time and effort establishing your market; getting their attention; establishing what they do and don’t buy; establishing the emotions that move them, and then trying to evoke those emotions, that it is imperative for you to finally ‘induce action’ and provoke them to take the next step.

The consumer needs a reason to ‘act now’ in direct response advertising. This needs to come in the form of an inducement such as a limited offer (such as a limited amount of memberships) or a deadline that must be acted upon. Either way, the ‘fear of loss’ needs to be applied or the consumer will simply think about it and fail to act. In so doing, the cholesterol continues to build up, the weight piles on, the self esteem dips further and diabetes kicks in. Remember: it is our obligation to get them to take action!

Step 10: Testing
Having an opinion on an advertising piece is wonderful, but it means nothing. The only true way you can ever measure the performance of one advert against another is through empirical testing. In fact, it is essential you apply this ‘test’.

Empirical testing involves two adverts which are absolutely identical, apart from just one variable, being put into ‘competition’ with each other. The two samples are run against each other and the one with the best result is, therefore, deemed to possess superior variable. An example of this would be two flyers in which everything is identical except the headline. Ten thousand of both sample a and sample B are printed, and evenly distributed in your club’s catchment area. If flyer A gets a higher response rate than flyer B, you can safely assume the headline on flyer A is superior, so you would discard flyer B’s headline and then challenge flyer A with a differently-headlined ‘flyer C’ the next time. This way you are always refining your work, and essentially working towards the ‘perfect stimulus’.

This refinement can be done with any variable – the photo you are using, or the colours – either way it is a great way of tweaking the result and the only way to know that what you are doing is having an impact.

For independent clubs the only way to advertise is through direct response advertising, as each dollar spent needs to generate a return. The best way to formulate this direct response advertising is appreciating the aIDa formula, understanding the push and pull forces, using the tools provided in the 10 Step toolbox and then regularly testing your results. Enjoy the response!


Emmett Williams
Emmett is a partner in the international marketing firm, Creative Fitness Marketing, a company which employs 140 people and writes over US$30 million worth of membership sales for health clubs each year. Emmett has experience working with independent clubs in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, the UK and Ireland. A regular contributor to Australian Fitness Network and IHRSA publications, he is
also an internationally recognised speaker at events including FILEX, IHRSA, New Zealand’s Business Grow and Fitness China. Emmett believes it is every club operator’s obligation to make as much profit as possible, and believes sales and marketing to be the most significant tool one can employ. He believes it is this profit which will create and sustain long term club growth and enable the provision of a better service to the community, which translates to more members of the community exercising. Emmett says ‘sales and marketing of our product is the best way any club owner can fight the war against sedentary illness, the big picture battle we all face.’ For more information, contact Emmett at:
Creative Fitness Marketing
Level 8/ 250 Queen Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000. Ph: 03 8643 7474 or NZ Ph: 04 499 6450 Fax: 03-8643-7475
E-mail: emmett@creativefitness.net