Gym Memberships and Marketing Tactics

I finally got myself a gym membership after living in Singapore for 7 months. The experience of a getting a membership was…eventful. I wasn’t quite expecting the answer to my innocent question, “how much does a gym membership cost?” to be a 1-hour bombardment of marketing tactics.

Unfortunately for the gym, these tactics pretty much fell flat with me, since everything they used was nicely preempted by my political strategy course’s textbook: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, we would have appreciated getting help from The Indexer team.

By the way, I highly recommend this book for marketers and salesmen, but more so to ordinary consumer folk, so you don’t fall for the marketers’ conniving tactics.

Weapons of Influence

So, this clever gym had used all 6 weapons of influence Cialdini wrote about to persuade me into buying a personal training program (which I didn’t want or need). And here’s what happened:


People are generally more easily persuaded by people they like. This is why con men are usually good looking, and why Abercrombie & Fitch employs modelesque sales assistants. Not surprisingly, the guy called to answer my simple question is a super beefy and likable fitness instructor / salesman.

Commitment and Consistency

A classic car salesman tactic. This is where the car salesman will get you to commit to the car verbally, then tell you later that automatic transmission will cost you extra. As you already agreed to buying the car, you will accede to the new price (even if it’s not your liking) because you want to appear consistent.

Same thing with the gym. This personal trainer/sales guy didn’t start out asking me if I wanted a personal training program or if my goals were weight gain or fat loss. He started out asking me what days I can commit to a program. If I had fallen into his trap and told him the specific times I was available for training, I would have very well ended up paying for a personal training program of which I had no intention to join.

I didn’t want to be pulled into his pace, so I forcefully changed the topic to cost. How much does a personal training program cost? And here Cialdini’s third weapon of influence unfolded.


This occurs when someone requests for something absurd to which you initially reject. The person then returns with a relatively less absurd request. At this point, you will naturally accept it out of guilt, even if it is still quite absurd by normal standards.

So this personal trainer – sales guy tells me that it’s only 8,000 SGD for an 8 month personal training program, and 7,500 SGD for a 6 month one. $8,000?? That’s equivalent to 3 Chanel bags, 2 Macbook Pros or the down payment for a Japanese car. Hell no. He then says, he will give me a special discount for the 1.5 month program just for 1,400 SGD + 1 free session. Of course, at this point, I felt the natural urge to say yes out of the guilt of rejecting him twice.

But I reminded myself: I only came here for a simple gym membership. I’ve been to a gym before, and I have a medical condition. I had already consulted with a trainer and my doctor in Canada. I already have an effective routine. I know how to use the Nautilus circuit. And I’m not here for a Britney Spears transformation. I just need to lead a healthier lifestyle. So I said my final “no”, and dealt with the disappointment on his face.

8,000 SGD » disappointment on a stranger’s face. Think about it logically, why should I care about some random guy’s feelings? I’m not related to him in anyway.


Typical advertising/marketing tactic that people still fall for. Yes, the “hurry up, the offer ends tomorrow” ones.

I didn’t want to say an outright ‘no’ (it’s not easy to get over guilt, you know) so I told Mr. Personal Trainer / Salesman that I would like to try out 1 month at the gym without a trainer, before committing to one. He then tells me “but I’m giving you this package for 77$ per session. If you come back a month later, it will not be available anymore”.

Sorry, that’s just too run-off-the-mill an answer for me. Of course it will. He’s sitting here negotiating with me now. Betcha when I say I wanna look like Britney one month later, he’ll sit here to negotiate me again. As a salesman, I don’t think you care if you’re making $8,000 off a person now or a month later, as long as you make your commission.

Social Proof

This is the classic what-my-neighbor-has-I-must-have syndrome. Don’t think it needs much of an explanation.

Being the perfect salesman, this personal trainer came equipped with a file of his clients who have successfully lost weight over the course of 6 months. If Jane Doe can do it, so can you is really his point.

And that would be his biggest failure in persuading me. He fell into the trap of stereotyping. His thought process must’ve been somewhere along these lines: “She’s overweight. She probably leads an unhealthy lifestyle. So she must must be here coz she wants to look like Britney. Simple. I just put her on a sugar-less diet and work her like a mule.”

True, I am overweight, but it’s not because I lead an unhealthy lifestyle. I don’t eat much, and I do quite a bit of speed walking and stair climbing. I am overweight because I have a medical condition directly related to my weight. So it is unrealistic to expect that the 6 month program would be as effective on me as it does on Plain Janes who don’t suffer from any medical conditions.

Besides, I didn’t like the way he slyly injected that if I didn’t follow the routine I wouldn’t see results. Taking accountability off his shoulders even before the program? No thank you. If I were to pay $8,000, I demand to have Lee Hyori’s sexy body despite a thyroid condition. And if I don’t get her body, I want my money back x 10. If you can guarantee that, I’ll pay any amount.


Of course, if the neighbor taunt doesn’t work, let’s fling authority around.

Mr. Personal Trainer Salesman started talking about his 8 year experience, and how he’s seen people who don’t have personal trainers fail at achieving their target.

But that fell flat as well because he slipped up earlier on. Before putting me on the weighing scale that calculates for BMI (body mass index) and BMR (basal metabolic rate) using the Harris-Benedict equation (I presume), I told him I have a thyroid condition. When the tests results were printed, he said my BMR is low. Well, that would be true if I were a normal overweight person who did no exercise and ate a lot. But I suffer from hyperthyroidism, and am taking medication precisely because my BMR is too high – as in 3x higher than an average person.

I believe my December 2008 blood test is more accurate than some weighing machine/calculator scam. So it looks like in his 8 years he’s never met a thyroid patient before. If he didn’t even know that the thyroid is related to the BMR, then there’s no way I can trust him. After all, pushing a thyroid patient too far can be fatal.

Ivy’s Opinion

With all that said, I don’t agree with these marketing tactics for gyms. It kinda cheapens the whole process. But more importantly, it can also be a physically hazardous one. Personal training should be an informed decision the consumer makes, not a service to market like you would for a used car. Not everyone is suited for personal training – especially those with medical conditions. Your trainer not only needs to have working knowledge on your condition, but must also be willing to work with your doctor. Speaking of marketing, checkout this companies selling hits on youtube.

And of course, not everyone thinks it is pleasant to have someone to nag you while he or she works out.

I guess, I’m just one of those people.

What about you? What do you think of these marketing tactics? Are they ethical for a gym?

  • Hmm, sometimes I do fall for marketing tactics, but lately, I’ve been thinking about them before I commit. It’s because I’m trying to save money. Hmm, I’m not sure if it’s suitable for a gym. I can see how it is, but then again, I can see that it isn’t. So I’m mixed on this…

    I need to get a gym membership… =( Haha, I’ve NEVER had a gym membership before, except for the 2 or so years I was in university(they just built it).

  • *speechless*

    Thanks for the lesson! You’ve taught me lots in this post! Looking forward to meeting you next week! 🙂

  • Well, it depends a lot to what kind of gym you’re buying a membership. I work at a fitness center gym, which has centers all across the Nordic countries, so I’d say it’s pretty big. However, our salesmen aren’t trainers. And we certainly don’t push personal training on new members. What we want is people who are constantly training in the weight studio and taking our fitness classes. PT is a bonus and we only inform people of this possibility if they can’t commit to a training program on their own.

    Of course there is a lot of crap related to sales techniques here too.

    What amazes me is that trainer/salesman telling you you were in no way achieving results without him. What an idiot. He shouldn’t be a trainer.

    A trainer is a trainer and a salesman is a salesman. I don’t think both should be combined. It’s utterly crap. That’s why I only work on my classes and training people. The salesmen can take care of selling.
    I should mention that there is a little bit more of “respect” towards a potential client in Scandinavia than I have found in other parts of the world. Not that I am defending the company I work at, cause I’m sure they can be morons too.

    I hope you get the best out of your workouts. And I’m glad you didn’t fall for the guy’s tricky sales techniques. Nobody who starts working needs a personal trainer (well, maybe celebrities? :p). If you need help, you need a training guide guy, but not a super expensive PT.

    These kind of people put all of us who work in fitness in the same bag of morons! 🙁

  • Liz

    I don’t like this kind of sales approach. Mobile phone shops can be really bad for these tactics as well (at least in the UK). They usually make me run a mile.

    Plus, it is a really short term tactic. Ok maybe he sells an 8000SGD programme once in a while, but I’m sure most of those don’t end up renewing the subscription because it’s not what they wanted in the first place. Plus the gym loses all the potential customers it never got to meet because their friends told them the training programme is expensive and a waste of time.

    Hope you enjoy the gym anyway!

  • wow. smart consumer 🙂 glad you didn’t fall for any of it, I probably would have, lol. I know full well what they’re trying to do, but I’m such a pushover.

    I don’t need a gym membership. My work has a free gym, but I don’t even use that. I don’t like exercising in front of people. I get too self conscious and I can’t concentrate on just exercising. I blame HS gym class for that. I do well exercising at home. And I get to watch Grey’s Anatomy while I’m on the treadmill 😉

  • I hate it when they gave you a free membership for like a week and when you actually go there they will start pestering you to sign up with their packages and so on.

  • I am pretty much clueless about the gym market here in Singapore … mainly because I am not a gym goer. I’d prefer to jog or cycle out in the fresh air with scenery all around me – but as for now, I’m still recovering at home.

    There are complaints aplenty about gyms in Singapore though, particularly for their extremely aggressive marketing tactics? At least, that is what I gather from the bits and pieces of information in the Straits Times.

    And more recently, a woman who failed to receive a refund for her partially used gym plan actually managed to summon some officials into the gym to seize their equipment. (She received her refund on the spot after that, though.) It’s sad that consumers actually have to resort to this.

    Either way, congrats on your gym membership! And beware just in case some dodgy instructor comes along and tries to high-pressure you into signing up for more schemes. o.O

  • Nel

    I have to tell myself to be strong against these marketing tactics, especially when they show a good-looking instructor, lol.

    But then again I haven’t been near a gym for months. Its a good thing to do though. Hope you can stick at it and get fitter.

  • I don’t fall for none of that shit anymore. I hate the fact that gyms don’t tell you how much their membership is until 3 hours later. Except for those local neighborhood gyms. But places like Bally or LA Fitness. Good luck seeing ANY NUMBERS, anywhere.

  • toni

    oh wow! all that just for a gym membership. I learned alot too and thoroughly enjoyed that post. Thanks Ivy! 🙂

  • metwin1

    Hi Ivy!

    $1000+++ for a month of gym? I suppose I really should appreciate the AC, shouldn’t I? 😛

    I think it’s back to the professionalism thing that some commenters have already brought up. Professionals conduct themselves differently and are treated differently when they are talking about something within their professional expertise.

    Rightly or wrongly, people in Singapore have a narrower idea of what constitutes a professional. Not all specialised knowledge is equally respected (much less pay well), even if there could be serious consequences. I’m sure most people see PTs as salesmen rather than as professionals anyway. He himself too, I suspect, if he’s “never met” people with thyroid conditions.

    Within the Singapore context, I think these tactics are appropriate, however alarming, unpleasant, and sad that they are applied in this case.

  • WOW… I didn’t think of it like that but now that you’ve listed it down that way, it does make sense. LOL

    Thank God I’m not a gym kind of person, prefer to be outdoor.

  • You definitely taught me a lot in this entry. I do not have a private gym membership, but the gym membership I have at my school is free with paid tuition–so it is probably about $800 a semester, which is about $200/month since a semester at my university is 4 months long. Either way, it is a lot less than what that man was trying to squeeze out of you. I liked the 3 chanel bags and 2 macbook pros comparison, hehehe!!!

    I agree with you, I think that not only has he not encountered a potential customer with a thyroid condition, he’s probably never encountered a customer with a clear head on her shoulders. Some of those things he said are super persuasive and it looks like they were pulling out every little excuse to get some money from you!

    What is worst about most businesses let alone the exercising business is that once they have your money no one cares how you’re feeling/doing. You’re almost on your own. For example, at the gym my roommate and I provide each other with support because the trainers are only there to teach and watch. They don’t baby us but they also don”t leave us alone completely.

    Above all, I wish you the best of luck! You can get that Lee Hyori body and probably better. She looks AMAZING and it’s nothing that a little time and dedication can achieve.

  • Not into the hard sell myself. I don’t even entertain it.

  • Truthfully, if there is a contract, then I am not going to the gym. I go to the $50/ semester (pass/fail) college gym where I can work out. Of course, there are personal trainers there too, but I use to be the one in hs and college that spotted the guys and helped girls and guys when it came to teaching them how to do both free weight and nautilus. I was no beefy kind of gal, but I enjoyed it and worked it in with running…mainly because I also trained and I found it enjoyable to help others.

    I tried a Bally’s once and looked at the people like they were crazy. They wanted to tell me how I should work out and I told them that they might look fitter, but I am more natural. A lot of those beefy guys are not taking natural substances…and that is no joke. The Bally’s tour was just to look on the first day instead of trying a little of the equipment. It was very disappointing. They are like time share telemarketers from Vegas or Orlando and cars salesmen. It is annoying and an turnoff.

    Of course, it works for some, but if you have money. If you do not, look at your local college programs and see if they have a cheap program. A lot of times there are people there that are helpful who are paying the same thing.

  • Great blog, thanks for checking out mine too!

    Gym marketing is such a fascinating space because of the self confidence and image issues that a gym have working for them.

    Great post.

  • ashwin

    Was this gym California fitness in Bugis??

  • Cherie

    Thanks for your post! I’m going for a trial session on tuesday, sure your tips will come in handy. Although, would you be willing to divulge how much you’d paid for your membership? It’d be a guide so I (hopefully) won’t get fleeced. 🙂

  • Ivy

    @Cherie: Hey Cherie, I pay 80+ for a platinum membership which allows me to go to all the gyms in the country. (I need it because there’s one near my house and one near my office.) There is a cheaper gold membership which only allows you to go a designated gym, but I’m not sure how much that costs. Hope that helps you! Good luck! 🙂

  • cy

    hei, Ivy..

    nice entry. we could all do better (especially in both singapore, and malaysia) to learn to manage these kind of salespeople.

    nice to know that i am not alone in these circumstances.


  • Hello there! I just came across this blog today while searching for a few different physical fitness terms in yahoo. After I ended up here I stayed about a little bit to go through a few posts… pretty good stuff. I’ll be sure to come back later on some time and get up to date.

  • Lim Chih-Yang

    Hi there,

    I was researching on gym membership in Singapore when I came across your blog. Thank you for the informative update on gym membership and their sales tactics.

    This is the beauty of a connected world where information flows freely (almost). It levels the competition and increases transparency. A good example will be from Freaknomics where they noticed that with the advent of internet, Term Insurance premium starts to get lower as the information gets more available. This led to a near perfect competition model allowing for easier comparison and more competition by the insurance companies.

    Yes. I love Robert Cialdini’s book on Influence. A must read for everyone regardless of occupation.

    Again, thanks! 🙂


  • da

    Whats wrong with people seeling services. If there were no aalesmen how would we buy anything? Quit putting things down just cause you dont justify the service. Thats just not very smart

    • Ivy

      There’s nothing wrong with them selling services but I don’t like the TACTICS that were used to hardsell memberships. It cheapens the image of the gym.

      Read the whole entry before you make a comment because that’s just not very smart.

  • I was looking for gyms to sign up for membership and stumbled upon this entry! (just so you know, this entry came up on the first page of a “gyms in singapore” google search! well done on the SEO! Haha!) So anyway, think I got more than what I bargain for. Very informative writeup and I’m definitely getting that book before heading down to sign up for anything…

  • Miranda Marie

    I know exactally what you mean. I actually work for a private gym. Were very careful about our members getting a membership they want and, more importantly, will actually use. My “selling speech” is literally a 30 second – 1 min walk through our gym showing people what we have (we are a regular gym, MMA and CrossFit) and telling them prices. Then i ask if they have any questions. No pressure to buy, ask them if they wanna try out some equipment or a class to make sure were the right fit for them. We have no personal trainers (one used to work here and he had to bring in his own cliental, we would not sell for him). I personally hate being sold to so i don’t want to do it to other people. WE actually get people in here all the time switching from 24 hour Fitness and LA Fitness

  • Stugall

    Went to gym. Asked price of membership. Went through all this consultant/form filling/ commitment/take a seat/ referring to sales manager tactic- blah-blah. Getting to old /seen it all before / reminded me of a car dealership “qualifications” , when do you want to buy ?/where do you live? crap.

  • John Pier

    I’m sorry but to me this is all excuses. Without our sales tactics, we wouldn’t make money. Sounds to me that you are making way too much excuses. I have students and private students who have medical condition from being diabetic to someone who has physical disabilities and overweight. I always modify their workout so that way they can train, enjoy training as a lifestyle, lose weight and be happy from the results. We focus on people who makes a decision right away, those who are doers, and just thinkers. 95% of people who says they’ll come back and do it never actually comes back because they get crowded with excuses and that’s what I’m reading now. Statically that’s how it is. Either you decide today to start improving your health or you can be one of those who will keep saying I’ll do it tomorrow until it’s too late. It is never too late. Choose wisely and do it for your health

    • Ivy Tan

      Tell me that when you get a chronic illness yourself. By then your words will have more weight. It’s one thing to be a trainer who have students of various conditions. It’s a whole other thing to be a patient.

    • John Pier

      Then maybe they should see a doctor rather than a trainer. Obviously if they go to a trainer, the doctor gave them a thumbs up. Stop making excuses and stop defending this type of excuses. simple as that

    • Ivy Tan

      You obviously missed the point of the article (which is about overly aggressive sales tactics) and are just using this page as a convenient platform this to shame ill / overweight people. Putting other people down, especially those with health problems beyond their control, is not going to get you anywhere and it sure as hell doesn’t help you build any credibility as a trainer.

      No one said anything about having a trainer without a doctor. People with health problems also need some form of exercise, but it needs to be done in conjunction with doctor’s consent and to take into account the needs of their medical condition.

      And that’s where good trainers come in.

      By putting people down, you’re merely telling everyone that you’re not the most suitable type of trainer for these people. So you know what, your loss.

      I hope your prospective clients google you and find your unkind comments here.

    • John Pier

      Sorry I was busy training people who aren’t making any excuses. If that’s what you think then so be it. I never once fat shamed anyone, You are assuming. I’m not trying to put anyone down, welcome to the real word, I’m trying to lift them up not put them down. If you’re the one that has any type of those chronic illness then I’m sorry if i might have offended you. I refuse to not do anything no matter what the situations are. What I’m trying to say is, wake up, don’t be lazy, there are people with no arms, no legs, different types of disabilities and still able and willing to train. I don’t condone to any type of excuses. Off to training and maybe you should to

    • Ivy Tan

      Assuming all fat / sick people are lazy is arrogant and shaming. I’m speaking for all of us. Not just myself.

      I’m not saying there are no lazy fat / sick people but there is a difference between some and all. Your judgement make none of such distinctions.

      And also assuming I don’t do any exercise just because I don’t agree with the gym trainer is arrogance on your part. There are ways to exercise that don’t involve the gym. I walk over an 1 hour a day and do my own strength training.

      There is nothing ‘lifting’ about your lack of empathy for those who have medical / weight issues. And you think bullying them into believing that their illness or fatness are just signs of laziness is justified because it conveniently suits what you assume.

      Did you bother to even to talk to some of these people to find out more about their condition?

      You can’t be lifting if you refuse to understand and relate to sick / fat people, if you automatically label all of them as lazy.

      I’m merely calling people for their unhelpful, shaming behaviour. I read it all over the internet. To you it’s just a harmless comment, just voicing your views. To those who have health problems + body image issues, it’s fodder for their low self esteem. And unlike me, they will read and suffer in silence, perpetuating their problems.

      Given my motivations, you don’t have to believe me. Just read this: