Sites related to health, fitness and total body wellness are humming at this time of year based on the good intentions of millions of people who make New Year’s resolutions to get in shape, shed unwanted pounds, start exercising more and devote more effort to their overall health and well-being.
But what happens when the resolve begins to dissolve and consumers begin the inevitable slide back into old habits that don’t include visiting sites promoting health and fitness?
Because there is a seasonal aspect to people wanting to get in shape – the start of each New Year, bathing suit season, wedding season – publishers have started flexing their marketing muscles to attract new customers all year round. Many are using interesting and innovative ways to keep consumers returning regardless of the time of the season.
Puttin’ on the Print
A surprising number of health-related entities are getting into the magazine publishing business. Magazines are expensive to publish, but some health and fitness sites think it’s a good way to attract new customers.
Curves, the fast-growing franchise of gyms for women, produces a print magazine called Diane, named after the company’s founder, Diane Heavin. Curves, too, relies on word of mouth or viral marketing for the bulk of its referrals. Customers talk to their friends and convince them to join the all-women gym, so that they have workout buddies to keep them accountable for sticking to their fitness regime. The company is venturing into online marketing, albeit slowly.
“We’ve only just begun our online marketing campaigns,” Lisa Hendry, manager of marketing technologies at Curves International, says. We’ve had some success with our email campaigns. “We haven’t established what the best has been. So we are experimenting and testing various offers online.”
WebMD also launched a print magazine. One million copies of the first issue were distributed free to doctors’ offices. The cover story in the premiere issue was about actress Brooke Shields’ experience with postpartum depression.
“We think there’s a tremendous opportunity to extend our brand offline,” CEO Wayne Gattinella says. The company also hopes to drive traffic to the Internet site, and many editorial pages contain links to the WebMD website.
BabyCenter.com, a site chock-full of information for expectant parents and new parents, relies on affiliates (who earn 6 percent commissions) and search engine marketing to lure new customers. But it recently launched a magazine called BabyCenter.
While BabyCenter.com does not face the cyclical issues of other sites promoting health, it still is looking to keep visitors loyal beyond the nine-month pregnancy period.
“Instead of TV ads, we have a physical representation in bookstores and the doctor’s office,” says Linda Murray, editor. “Even though it’s free to our members, the magazine serves the same function as paid advertising.”
But the tried-and-true means of supporting the BabyCenter.com site is still personalization and communication through newsletters, bulletin boards and chat.
“When someone comes to our site for the first time, they see an unpersonalized home page. We invite visitors to sign up for our emails. We want you to register for your stage. Then you get a home page that is just for you, whether you are pregnant or a mother of a two-year-old. If you go to another page, we have pop-ups (we are doing fewer and fewer because people don’t like those, and have blockers) but we invite people to sign up,” says Murray. “A fair number of people come specifically to get newsletter information. We do keyword buying on search engines – we show up prominently on searches.”
BabyCenter also has a partnership with MSN, in which BabyCenter.com provides MSN with content and MSN shows related links back to BabyCenter.com. “That is another acquisition mechanism for us. We don’t have TV spots. Early in our history, we did,” Murray says. “The most effective thing for us is really search engines. And people find out about us through word of mouth from their friends.”
Other health sites have found that billboards are their best bet for attracting customers and gaining new business.
Drugstore.com recently broke a $4.5 million outdoor advertising campaign. The creative for the campaign shows various customers’ orders; copy text says things like, “They carry 25,000 items. I carry nothing.” The ads are aimed at educating the company’s 1.9 million customers and attracting new shoppers.
“Our campaign will concentrate on locations around key ZIP codes and include outlets, such as train and bus stations, street furniture, laundry bags, coffee cups and sleeves and even yoga mats,” CEO Dawn Lepore says in a statement. Drugstore.com is heavily canvassing San Francisco, Chicago and New York.
But the interesting twist is that you can view the ads on the company’s website. If you surf over to Drugstore.com, you can look at each advertisement individually and then click to shop for the items in each ad. It’s one way of trying to get online and offline initiatives together.
Although Drugstore.com might tout its outdoor advertising efforts, the company is much more reticent when it comes to discussing its online initiatives. LinkShare handles Drugstore.com’s associate program.
“We keep our methodologies pretty tight to our vest,” says Greg French, a spokesperson for Drugstore.com. “We are sensitive about our performance-based marketing because we feel like we are ahead of the pack and we don’t like to give a lot away.”
The paranoia in talking about performance-based marketing is hardly unique to Drugstore.com. Many top health sites declined interviews for this story. Executives from Weight Watchers were not available for interviews. Commission Junction handles the Weight Watchers Affiliate program; affiliates get $10 for every qualifying Weight Watchers Online or Weight Watchers eTools subscription.
Recently released research suggests there is a correlation between spending money online and acquiring new customers. The biggest spenders online are Weight Watchers and eDiets. During the week ending August 28, 2005, Weight Watchers had 116 million impressions or 20.5 percent of all impressions; eDiets.com had 61 million impressions or 10.9 percent of all impressions, according to Nielsen//NetRatings AdRelevance. Weight Watchers trailed only WebMD in terms of unique audience active reach.
Spreading the Good Word
Not all health and fitness companies can afford to produce expensive print magazines to complement their online initiatives, Ã¡ la Curves and BabyCenter, or splashy billboards like Drugstore.com, but many can afford to offer affiliates a cut of the action if they bring in new customers. Many run affiliate programs to drive traffic to their sites. And most offer email newsletters to their customer base, to keep their audiences interested and immersed in their health, fitness or nutritional information.
For many it’s about knowing your audience. A recent study from Nielsen//NetRatings shows that women represent the majority at 55 percent when it comes to visiting health, fitness and nutrition sites. More than 54 percent of all those who go to health-related sites are over 45 years old and 27 percent have an average household income of between $50,000 and $79,000.
Many health sites have also found that their existing customers are their best salespeople. Conduct a quick search online and you’ll find dozens of women blogging about their attempts to lose weight with various programs like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and South Beach.
Perhaps one of the most interesting healthcare innovations of late comes from Richard Branson. His Virgin Group, the company known for its music, airlines and mobile phones, is teaming up with Humana to offer health insurance with a twist. This plan, called Virgin Life Care, is linked to gym memberships and will give discounts and bonuses to people whose workouts result in lower blood pressure, weight loss or a shrinking body mass index. Lower healthcare premiums and airline tickets will be incentives for people in the loyalty program. Tampa, Fla. and San Antonio, Texas are the first two cities where the product will be offered, beginning in early 2006.
‘Casting a Wider Net
Others in the health and wellness segments are looking to newfangled technologies such as podcasting that promise to make performance-based marketing a lot more fun.
So far, podcasts have been the domain of edgy brands like movie studios and those excluded from traditional advertising. Condom maker Durex introduced a line extension of lubricants called Play on the “Dawn and Drew Show,” an audio podcast that’s put out by a married couple of ex-punk rockers living in Wisconsin. Podcasts don’t fall under the rubric of traditional advertising, but Durex was pleased with the results.
“Being on the ‘Dawn and Drew Show’ worked for the Play launch. It’s done by a loving couple that have fun together, so they were the perfect spokespeople for our product,” says Pam Piligian, senior vice president of Durex’s advertising agency Fitzgerald & Company, which is based in Atlanta. “It was a leap of faith for us, but we definitely got our money’s worth.”
Piligian says traffic to the www.playlubricants.com microsite quadrupled during the 8-week sponsorship/product placement, the cost of which was “less than five digits.”
Many industry watchers agree that money spent on podcasts is cost-effective. “A sponsorship costs anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 a month,” Barry Reicherter, senior vice president of public relations firm Porter Novelli, says.
But the medium isn’t huge. According to a study by market researcher Ipsos Insight, about 28 percent of Web users know what a podcast is but only about 2 percent of that group has actually listened to one.
Still, marketers are intrigued with podcasting because it offers a young, technically savvy demographic and a captive audience. The audio programming comes largely from amateurs, is unregulated by the FCC and is consumable on demand. Think of it as the combination of blogs (freedom of expression), MP3s (digital and portable files) and TiVo (time-shifting).
“The good news is there’s a lot of buzz about podcasts, and it’s also cheap to experiment with. But it’s over-hyped,” David Schatsky, senior vice president at JupiterResearch, says. The audience is small – according to Jupiter, just 7 percent of online consumers said they listened to or downloaded podcasts monthly. “And these folks tend to be young, male and rather geeky.”
But, as was the case with Durex, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Many advertisers are intrigued with the possibilities that a new video iPod presents. Apple introduced a video iPod in October and has deals to sell episodes of TV shows, such as Desperate Housewives and Lost, the day after they are broadcast.
“It’s great because you can hit a niche and get personalized,” says Sean Black of Beyond Interactive, which created a Paris Hilton podcast to promote the House of Wax movie. He admits that there isn’t yet full accountability but he is still a fan of the technology. “And now that videocasting has hit, it’ll be a whole new world.”
And performance marketers and affiliates are quick to embrace new technologies that keep their sites in tip-top shape.
DIANE ANDERSON is an editor at Brandweek. She was the managing editor for Revenue magazine for Issue 4 and previously worked for the Industry Standard, HotWired and Wired News.