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  • The Intimidation Factor. Part 5

    Posted on October 17th, 2012 Patricia No comments

    Marketing implications

    From a marketing perspective, the degree of comfort people have about exercising in an environment that is accepting of their present physical capabilities holds an important clue for why a portion of the deconditioned population feels intimidated about using health clubs. Inactive individuals who were intimidated by worksite facilities and health clubs were also less comfortable with their bodies, indicating that they may also be more sensitive to being around others who are in better shape than they are.

    Since worksite facilities appear to have no participant or activity stereotype, there are no negative images due to present members, but there are also no images that might let the intimidated, deconditioned population know that the facility is geared toward all types of people. It is important, therefore, that worksite facilities develop an activity and participant stereotype that sends an inviting message to the intimidated, deconditioned population.

    People who feel intimidated by exercise facilities will need reassurance that even though they are not in good physical condition, they are still capable of doing exercise. They also need to know that in-shape individuals are focussed on themselves and not on evaluating others. In fact, they are usually accepting of people trying to improve their health. Helping deconditioned individuals feel more confident about their potential athletic abilities can be done through three promotional strategies — classical conditioning, operant conditioning and vicarious learning.

    Classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is when a neutral stimulus conditions certain behaviors. Generally these behaviors are involuntary in nature and therefore not under conscious control of the individual. Emotions (remember that feelings of intimidation is an emotional response) appear to follow the principles of classical conditioning. For example, when a product that people have neutral or even negative feelings for is repeatedly advertised during exciting sports events, it is believed possible for the product to eventually generate excitement on its own solely because of its attachment to the exciting event.

    Using classical conditioning in advertising requires pairing a stimuli that elicits positive emotions from the target markets with the facility. Sexy voices and bodies are common classical conditioning strategies used by some health clubs, and do work on certain segments of the population. For many inactive consumers, such ads may work because they elicit negative emotions that may drive them into an exercise facility to get into shape. But it will drive others away, so be careful with this strategy. Many older consumers are concerned with remaining in good health, and not with attaining a sexy image. Pairing images of active older people enjoying life in an exciting environment with exercise facilities may be a classical conditioning marketing strategy that has a broader appeal.

    Operant conditioning. Operant conditioning deals with behaviors that are assumed to be under conscious control of the individual. Operant behaviors are driven by the belief that certain consequences (positive or negative) will occur as a result of undertaking a behavior. Worksite facilities often use this strategy by offering a reward, such as cash, when their employees exercise regularly. Removing aversive stimuli can also influence behavior. For example, if by exercising in a facility a person will lose weight, reduce their cholesterol or slow bone loss, then some people are more likely to exercise on a regular basis.

    Shaping is another operant conditioning concept that advertisers use to encourage product usage. Usually shaping involves the positive reinforcement of behaviors that come closer and closer to the ultimate desired behavior. For example, to encourage people to join a facility, they can be offered a reward for visiting the club. Once there, the probability that they will join is increased. Some gyms participate in a Toys-for-Tots program where people can become interested in joining the facility while dropping off toys. However, if the time is taken to attract potential members to a facility by using a shaping strategy, facilities also should take the time to ensure these consumers stay once they join.

    Vicarious learning. Basically, vicarious learning relies on the principle that people tend to imitate the behavior of others because it leads to positive outcomes. Conversely, they will avoid the behavior of others when they see that it leads to negative consequences. When it comes to exercise facility marketing, the most common form of vicarious learning is overt modeling. Potential members observe a model (usually with a perfect, desirable body) using the facility, and the implied consequence is that if they work out, they will attain a similarly desirable body. Advertisers who use this strategy, though, must be sensitive to the relationship between the characteristics of the observers, the characteristics of the model and the characteristics of the modeling cues themselves. Unfortunately, vicarious learning is exactly how potential consumers have developed negative stereotypes about exercise facilities. If overt modeling is used to market an exercise facility, remember that people may feel more intimidated about the facility if models are incompatible with the target market.

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