I’ve noticed a developing trend since I’ve been in the Health & Fitness Industry now for a little over seven years, and it’s not just limited to my industry.
It’s everywhere, from mainstream media to social media and the podcast world. It’s so prevalent that it’s affecting my career and the clients I work for.
The stuff is like candy, and it’s sad to say that our hyper-consumerism western world isn’t just limited to Lululemon sweatpants (I’m guilty of that one) or craft beer (that too). Consumption is addictive, and we’re constantly looking out for novelty or excitement to fulfill that need to consume. But, this need is not limited to material goods.
We consume information.
In the form of data, pictures, fad diets, workouts, cleanses, you name it.
But how does someone stand out? How does one product outsell another similar product? How does one online site get more clicks than its competitor down the street?
Forget actually having a product or service that delivers on its promise or makes a difference in someone’s life. As long as you have some attention-grabbing way to falsely claim that whatever product or service your organization sells is exactly what the person whose eyeballs are looking at it actually needs, then you’re good to go.
I’m not a purist by any stretch of the imagination, and I love a clever way to advertise or get some views as much as the next entrepreneur, as long as the content at the root of the advertisement is legitimate. I completely understand being confident in your product or service, and that’s extremely important for so many reasons. But, to literally scare someone into “needing” what you sell is absolutely abhorrent.
The Pendulum Swings
Most ideas out there go through the typical extremist pendulum, but most times the majority settles on something in between. A few examples –
- All fats are terrible for you! Eat more carbohydrates!….swing…. Fat is amazing! Never eat carbohydrates!….settle, moderate, MUFA’s/PUFA’s (monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids) and complex carbohydrates are good for all!
- Running shoes are amazing! The right shoes cure all and increase my 40 time!….swing….All shoes are terrible! Barefoot all day, all the time!….settle, moderate, going barefoot is good in some instances but it’s really about footstrike and gait patterns.
- Eggs are the devil! Eat an egg and your cholesterol skyrockets predisposing you to heart disease!….swing….Ignore the cholesterol, you can eat a dozen a day! PROTEIN!….settle, moderate, eggs aren’t as bad as we thought, but if you have a family history of high cholesterol, take it easy.
Speaking of eggs, I need to take a second and set a metaphorical match and gasoline to the documentary “What the Health”. Comparing the consumption of one egg to the consumption of five cigarettes is freaking ridiculous.
But I can’t necessarily blame the makers of that film for engaging in such sensationalism because it’s what every documentary does. To get paid, writers, directors, and producers need eyeballs, and telling everyone to consume everything in healthy moderation is boring as hell. Boring yes, but at least you wouldn’t be a damn sell-out. That’s a whole different issue altogether.
Have you ever wondered how your standard gym and more importantly, exercise, evolved to require highly specialized and individualized machines? You’re not alone, as I was contemplating this very thing the other day while listening to something on the radio. It just so happens that what I was listening to was a brief synopsis of the book “The Attention Merchants” by Tim Wu, Professor at Columbia University.
The host mentioned a concept called “demand engineering” and I was intrigued. He was referring to the advertising you might see for a new product that you didn’t even know you needed until all of a sudden, you did. Who knew we would one-day “need” air bubbles and NASA grade foam to walk or run “properly”. Who knew one day we would “need” a special (and expensive) form of “detoxification” called a juice cleanse?
We have feet and a liver, which are already optimally designed for us, and yet somehow some corporate bigwigs were able to convince us they had a better way to do it.
A couple billion dollars later for the cayenne pepper/honey/lemon water fanatics, and a couple hundred billion dollars later for the sneakerheads, and boom! Demand engineering!
Back to the gym, where the Nautilus, Precor, and Hammer Strength brands dominate the landscape, especially in the big box gyms (LA Fitness, Lifetime Fitness, Planet Fitness). This is purely speculative, but my guess is the influx of gratuitous amounts of “selectorized” machines went something like this at the corporate headquarters of any major equipment brand-
- We only have a few pieces of equipment needed for a weighted squat-
- Squat rack
- Olympic Barbell
- Plates to put on barbell
- Sales level off because a place only needs so many squat racks
- Let’s break down a squat into individual movements-
- Hip flexion/extension
- Knee flexion/extension
- Hip abduction/adduction
- Let’s make a machine for each one of those movements! Brilliant!
- Let’s all make a bazillion more dollars engineering a demand for stuff that people don’t know they need yet!
- Throw in a convenient “redesign” cycle every couple of years and those big equipment brands have a pretty nice business model.
Bottom Line: Do Your Homework
I’m a personal trainer, and I get it, people feel like there have to be several machines at a gym, for a gym to be a “gym”. But it’s only because of the social norm of the relationship between a gym and a multitude of machines, that the generalization exists in the first place.
In the end, no matter how much demand is engineered by these companies, you just can’t out-engineer natural selection. A shoe isn’t better than a foot, a juice cleanse isn’t better than a liver, and six different selectorized machines can’t do for the body what a simple squat can.
Be wary of sensationalism, demand engineering, and above else, be an educated consumer.
Yours in Wellness,
Prevention over Treatment