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Ad campaigns strive for direct connections


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Modern Acupuncture unveiled its consumer-facing “Let’s Tingle” campaign in Times Square in New York City last fall.

The definition of wellness has evolved over the years, but not everyone seems to have gotten the memo. You don’t need to have six-pack abs or be rail-thin to be fit but the portrayal of gym-goers in ads always conformed to that thesis, says Michael Lupo, senior vice president of marketing for Blink Fitness.

“There was a lot of concern over body type and a lack of diversity in the fitness space,” Lupo remembers. “Even though there are a lot of brands out there that talk about no judgment and safe spaces, they end up showing the same kinds of people with that very old-school print magazine aesthetic.” Given this problem, Blink decided to give its ad campaign a reboot. The first stop for models: Blink’s own members.

A rebooted campaign was also what Waxing the City had in mind after a focus group discovered that customers’ biggest struggle with waxing was the related anxiety. Its new ad campaign, with cheeky turns of phrase—“Your bush won’t bewilder us”—and arresting photography, addresses that concern.

“The goal is to talk openly and honestly about waxing and in a fun way,” says Lori Bernier, senior field marketing manager at Self Esteem Brands, the parent company for Waxing the City. “It directly addresses that consumer concern: ‘What are they going to think? Are they going to judge me?’ This campaign basically says, we have done this a million times and we’re going to be a judgment-free zone, we have seen it all.”

For his part, Matt Hale, the CEO of Modern Acupuncture, wanted something for the customer who might have seen it all but was still afraid of the needle. The franchise’s “Let’s Tingle” campaign features eye-catching photography by Swedish photographer Henrik Halvarsson, of H&M fame, under creative direction of renowned marketing agency StrawberryFrog.

“The ad campaign was meant to be bold and drive curiosity and it does exactly that,” Hale says. “We learned that in today’s marketing you have to be bold and different and stand out. To capture people’s attention, that’s what it takes.”

Modern Acupuncture ensured that some of that attention created additional buzz by running those same bold ads on a Times Square billboard for two weeks.

Blink Fitness, too, is still capitalizing on the buzz created by its “Every Body Happy” campaign. The franchise put out a casting call in its studios, from which participants were recruited. The campaign, which launched in 2016, has been reshot with new members for a refresh, Lupo says. “The models are now like rockstars in their studios,” he adds.

It’s not merely enough to launch a new ad campaign; franchises must also selectively target the most appropriate channels for their message. For example, European Wax Center looked for partners with “shared values of empowering women and championing their strength and individuality,” says Sherry Baker, president of marketing and product development. It found digital and broadcast platforms such as PopSugar and Refinery29 to be the right fit for the campaign “Revealing You,” which “inspires women to be whoever and whatever they want to be,” Baker says.

All franchises are creating awareness at a wider level and encouraging franchisees to tailor local advertising based on customer demographics in their markets. Blink Fitness, for example, might place radio ads in areas with older populations such as Long Island but rely on digital and billboard media in regions like Brooklyn.

European Wax Center

European Wax Center has ads that seem to be about anything other than bikini waxes—perhaps about a sparkly experience instead.

Getting franchisees on board

Given that franchisees usually bear the brunt of buying window clings, decals and other marketing materials every time a new campaign is launched, how did the franchises get buy-in for their refreshed campaigns?

“Since a new campaign is all about customer acquisition and education, it’s about getting more people in the door so our franchisees see the benefit of upfront investment,” Waxing the City’s Bernier says.

Modern Acupuncture launched a social media campaign, #letstingle on Instagram, inviting the public to share stories about what makes them tingle. To their surprise, they had an overwhelming response from their own franchisees and acupuncturists who shared heartwarming stories about the emotional connection to their professions. It was a validation, Hale says, that the franchise was on the right track.

Creative agency StrawberryFrog worked on the Modern Acupuncture project in exchange for equity in the franchise, making it difficult to put a monetary amount to how much the ad campaign costs, the franchise reports. Investment per franchise was minimal, ranging from $1,000 to $3,500. At Waxing the City, the local digital media spend for the summer campaign was $1,200 for franchisees.

Also on the right track is the societal attitude toward what constitutes wellness. It’s a more holistic approach, the franchisors say, and has allowed waxing franchises like Waxing the City and European Wax Center to play up the self-esteem aspect of the service.

“I think people are realizing now that they feel way better when they focus on the whole self through exercise, meditation, mindfulness,” Blink’s Lupo says. “That’s much better than just eating celery and water for lunch and running for 40 minutes on the treadmill.” Lupo’s observations are right on the money. Indeed, the global wellness industry was worth a whopping $4.2 trillion in 2017, according to the Global Wellness Institute, and that number is only expected to rise.

The brands are emphasizing authenticity in addition to the wellness component. This is a departure from previous campaigns for both Blink, which featured a fun startup vibe, and Modern Acupuncture, which used to run on the traditional blue-and-white clinical look.

“We used to have black-and-white imagery of models, which was fine but less approachable,” Bernier says of Waxing the City’s older campaigns. “There’s definitely a place for that but this new campaign creates a sense of inclusivity, it shows the consumer they can fit in here.”

“The best way to create engagement is to hit those emotional chords that are meaningful to our current and potential guests,” Baker says. “When they see themselves in our imagery and our words, it adds to their sense of self-confidence, we become part of their lives, not just a place to get a functional service.”

Lupo believes authenticity is today’s most valuable currency in advertising. “Technology has forced everyone to be more honest and fair. It was important for us to feature real people who come to our gym, not actors who pretend to do so,” he says. “It was important for us to be as honest as possible, to really push this sense of radical transparency.”

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