Given today's societal awareness of obesity and, to lesser a degree, the related chronic diseases, my sense is that most fitness marketing focuses, implicitly or explicitly, on the physical health benefits of exercise. The work of behavior economists, however, suggests that humans are more attracted to short-term gains than long-term gains, which presents profound challenges for marketing the health benefits of exercise programs. As Cornell University Professor John Cawley recently noted at a Campaign to End Obesity event, it's hard to get a 35-year old man to take actions today that might extend the end of his life some 40 or 50 years down the road.
Marketing angles such as, "Extend Your Life Expectancy by 10 Years," are certainly compelling, and may impact a few New Year's resolutions, but probably would not get the majority of Americans out of bed at 6 am for an early morning workout.
We know that exercise is wonderful medicine. And if it were in a pill form, "it would be the most prescribed wonder drug in history." But, unfortunately, exercise is not only medicine, it's also considered work by most people - and humans prefer that work be rewarded sooner rather than later.
To further complicate marketing efforts, many of the health benefits of exercise are prevention-focused, which means that a person may need to feel susceptible to a disease before appreciating the preventive benefits of exercise.
Of course, the physical benefits of exercise are powerful and immediate, and should be trumpeted in marketing efforts to parents and children, but there is another very compelling message that often seems overlooked by marketing and promotion teams.
And it's a message that should be very attractive to parents.
Exercise improves mental performance. Very quickly.
It can, for example, improve your memory, increase your ability to perform complex tasks, increase your auditory and visual attention and, perhaps most significantly, reduce stress and anxiety.
According to Dr. John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Education and the Brain, "There's sort of no question about it now. The exercise itself doesn't make you smarter, but it puts the brain of the learners in the optimal position for them to learn."
For example, a recent study suggests that 30 minutes on a treadmill may improve student performance on problem-solving exercises by 10%.
I believe the mental health benefits of exercise present profound and underutilized marketing opportunities for physical activity providers.
Just imagine the taglines...
- "Improve Your Child's Test Scores"
- "Be Happier Today"
- "Feel Smarter in Just 30 Minutes"
- "Be More Productive at Work"
- "Improve Your Memory"
Taglines like these are aimed directly at some of the most fundamental aspirations of our culture. Yet these are benefits not generally associated with exercise. As more parents come to understand the mental health benefits of exercise, for their children and for themselves, I believe the culture of physical activity will grow exponentially.
Is your organization promoting the mental health benefits of exercise? What works?