Fitness Junkies Are Like Cult Members

There are Soul Cycle devotees who experience breakdowns after their exercise classes are cancelled, according to a new report from Chicago-based ad agency Upshot.

The study also found that the CrossFit movement continues to gain popularity despite the rise in injuries and that the Pure Barre niche exercise brand with estimated revenues of $50 million, generates significantly more online conversations than Under Armour, a brand with revenue of $2.3 billion and a presence in almost every sports store.

Today's fitness junkies may seem extreme, but there is a good reason. Similar to the lure of cults, they’re seeking a communal sense of belonging, shared rituals and similar ideological values as others in the group, according to the new research.  

"We noticed the incredible rise in certain activities like CrossFit, Tough Mudders, Soul Cycle, Pure Barre, etc. and were curious about why they were growing and the characteristics they shared," says Upshot President-CEO Brian Kristofek. “We thought there might be a marketing opportunity for brands because these groups tend to be committed and fiercely loyal."



Overall, these fitness fanatics are passionate people focused on creating positive, holistic lifestyle experiences with like-minded individuals. From there, Upshot segmented them into four unique, all-inclusive health and wellness lifestyle segments, or “Fit Cults.”

They are:

Urban Cavemen – An exclusive group of environmentally mindful cycle-enthusiasts, these bearded hipster-types are as concerned with where their food comes from (think fair trade coffee and organic/local everything) as they are with getting in a daily, fossil-fuel-free bike ride or a barefoot run. Their preferred brands include Chrome Bags, Vibram shoes and Schwinn bicycles.

Badge Junkies – Working out is an important social activity for this group, who love team events like Color Runs, Tough Mudders, 5Ks and the parties that follow. They are all about being active, but making it fun, being with friends, and of course, sharing it all on social media channels like Instagram. Top brands for this group are Core Power protein drinks, Kind energy bars and Shout stain remover.

Haute Couture Hippies – These image-conscious designer yogis strive for inner peace and balance while making it look good. They spend time on Pinterest and other social media. Brands of choice include LuLu Lemon, Pirana, Yoga Rat and Annie’s gluten free.

Sweat Worshippers – High protein, high intensity and high performance motivate these die hard gym rats, who are dedicated to perfecting their bodies through working out under the direction of charismatic leaders and clean eating. Their social media outlet of choice is Instagram, where they post gym selfies and photos of healthy meals and sunsets after a run. Their brands of choice include Nike, Under Armour, Isopure, Reebok and Fitbit.

Regardless of their specific personas, these fitness lifestyles are all encompassing for these cult-like members and dictate their preferred brands, food, and social interactions. 

"These groups are very committed and loyal, so from a marketing perspective, they make for ideal customers," says Kristofek. "But beware, they are very discerning and don’t let just anyone in the club."

Although these “cults” are not exclusively composed of Millennials, that generation does make up a large proportion of these adherents, says the report. Indeed, this generation has helped shift the culture away from restricting diets, a la Atkins, and instead have focused on a holistic lifestyle-based approach that combines physical activities with smarter food choices and habits. "This lifestyle belief is also reflected in the growing adoption of wearable technology since we can now have a whole body perspective based on the data these devices track," says Kristofek. "Millennials are an incredibly influential generation so their actions and beliefs halo out to the generations above and below them."

Looking forward, the agency's next step is to help brands figure out how and if it is appropriate to engage with these four personas. "We feel strongly that a brand has to have some type of connection with these groups, [such as] shared beliefs, health and wellness, or lifestyle related, relevant offering," says Kristofek. "If not, any form of marketing engagement won’t be authentic and most likely won’t succeed." 

To help jumpstart that connection, Upshot has developed a marketing framework to engage (or infiltrate) these groups. The agency also outlines rules of engagement with Fit Cults and various ways to activate from messaging to promotions to new products to full experiences.

The Upshot Planning Group worked in collaboration with The Source, Upshot's market intelligence team, a group that monitors consumer and marketplace trends via a variety of secondary sources, including the popular and trade press, the investment community and research partners such as the Futures Co., a global strategic insight and research consultancy. Upshot also analyzed Google search trends and over 300 million social media conversations utilizing the Meltwater Buzz Platform to uncover the latest fitness behaviors and insights to come to its conclusions. 

More information about the report is available here.
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