A Gymstick for Every Attic

We are obsessed with eating, but we spend billions on diet products.

Feb. 17, 2011 — -- My wife is a connoisseur of exercise paraphernalia. She follows exercise trends like kids follow ice-cream trucks.

Our attic, therefore, is a veritable museum of modern-day exercise assisting devices. On the dusty wood planks amid plastic storage bins of Christmas decorations and old computer equipment sits an Ab Roller alongside a ThighMaster. You'll find a stack of aerobic steps, various sizes of inflated exercise balls, yoga mats and much, much more.

From the Ab Rocket to Zumba, aggressive advertising has always fueled the fitness craze and gadget business, and now, with the growth of social media, the activity is more intense than ever.

My wife's current exercise of choice is the hula hoop. Not like you might be imagining it, but we're talking a combination of aerobic and dance moves that burn up to 600 calories, and it's great to watch.

Check out videos from Hoopnotica and Hoop Path to get a sense. If you haven't experienced this fitness craze, don't feel too bad -- it is still being promoted through social media and word-of-mouth.

Worldwide fitness crazes like Zumba still have infomercials and multi-million dollar video budgets, and take the more traditional path of the mega fitness hit of the '90s, Tae-Bo. In its heyday, Tae-Bo was a $75 million-a-year business. Its videos hit the top of the sales charts, besting even releases from Disney. During its peak, Tae-Bo infomercial had more than 2,000 local and national airings a week. The franchise grew into fitness books, athletic shoes, nutritional products and apparel.

But fitness fads are just as likely these days to more slowly build a following through videos posted on YouTube, and social media testimonials. You might be familiar with such extreme workout videos as P90X, Insanity and Crossfit, but a trip through cyberspace will introduce you to Cy-Yo, a combination of yoga and cycling, Gymstick, a pole, bands and stirrups used for a variety of exercises indoors, outdoors, underwater, both alone and in group,s and TRX Suspension Training one of the many variations of circus-style apparatus designed to increase your strength and improve your balance. Thanks to the Internet and social media, you can read about these items, see them in action, get testimonials and purchase all online.

Obsessed With Fitness

Wii fit, an early entry into the "exergaming" category now inhabited by everyone from Microsoft (Kinect) to Motionfitness sold more than 22 million units in its first two years of release. The truth is only about half of Americans exercise regularly (at least three times a week) and sadly, the trend seems to be moving in the wrong direction even while as a nation we are becoming more obese.

It's complicated. We are obsessed with food and eating out, but we also spend $34 billion a year on diet and diet-related products. Add $5.8 billion for home gym equipment and another $28 billion for gym memberships and you begin to see where fitness fads come in. The promise is that for a modest price we can own something that looks effortless and fun, and if we believe that message, become buff and beautiful in no time flat.

And so, for every one person who spends six months to a year in the gym patiently exercising while cutting calories, there are countless others who become enamored of a device while reclining on the couch or even more likely now, cruising on the Internet, whip out their plastic money and in four to six weeks are wallowing around on the floor connected to something that they hope will have them looking like Marky Mark or Katy Perry in about a week.

I know there are some who at this point would like to blame advertising for making empty promises and preying on the weaknesses of the masses. Really? In the case of fitness fads, gadgets and apparel we are entertained, enticed and shown bridges we are told we can own but at the end of the day, we are in on the joke and like lottery tickets, there is some anticipation, but mostly, we're just dreaming.

Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.