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:

Liking

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.

Reciprocation

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.

Scarcity

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.

Authority

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?