This month's cover photo caused a minor debate among some of the staff. Where some of us saw the woman on the cover as a beautiful, joyful and confident example of older adults, others wondered whether readers would be turned off by the image — and whether advertisers would want to place their ads in a magazine with a nontraditional “cover girl.”
That the idea of featuring a photo of an older woman with wrinkles as our cover image would be unwelcomed by our readers and advertisers seems to imply that our readers and advertisers are shallow. It says that they cannot see the beauty in someone who has lived many years and wears that experience proudly and happily on her face. I certainly hope that is not the case.
Senior citizens are the fastest-growing population in our clubs. That means that people who look like the woman on our cover are making up a larger and larger portion of your membership. If you aren't welcoming these people into your clubs, then you are losing out on potential members and revenue.
How do you know if you are not welcoming of senior citizens and people who aren't the traditional image of thin and beautiful? Look at the equipment and classes you have in place. Are they easy to use and gentle on overweight or older bodies? You also need to look at the images you use in your advertisements and direct mail pieces, as you've all heard before. Do they only include photos of young, perfect-looking people, or do they include real people of all ages, shapes, sizes and racial makeup?
If you want to grow your membership, I hope your advertisements include real-looking people. Many nonmembers already think only the fit and beautiful are welcomed inside club doors — you don't need your advertisements confirming that to them. By showing them people who look like them, you are showing them that your facility isn't an exclusive club for big, muscle-bound men and pencil-thin women.
I hypothesize that of the 16 percent of the U.S. population who belong to a health club, a large percentage of them are people who have always been fit. That means that you need to do little to keep them as members except provide good customer service, good value, a clean facility and working equipment. Within that 16 percent are some people who've always struggled with weight but who are confident enough that they entered your doors despite their fears. However, most people who are overweight don't have the confidence to walk through your doors, and advertisements showing what seems to them like an unattainable physique won't change their minds.
About two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese. That means that the fitness industry has a lot of room for growth within the unfit population. Why exclude them from your advertisements? Help them realize that they belong inside your club by showing them that others who look like them are already there.
Some club operators may use fit and young people in advertisements because the images show potential members what they can become. But when you're 100 pounds overweight, it's difficult to believe you will ever become a size 2. And when you're 70, you know that you'll never look like you're 25 again.
If you look at our cover and see a real and beautiful person, then why wouldn't your potential members see the same? If the image makes you cringe, then maybe real-looking, potential members see you cringe when they walk through your doors, too.