Virgin Active hopes to ‘cut through the crap’ with brand repositioning

The global gym group is looking to remove industry intimidation and reposition itself to appeal to a wider target audience by offering a realistic and relatable interpretation of fitness.

Virgin Active is aiming to “cut through the crap” in the fitness industry by offering a more realistic and human approach to working out as it looks reposition itself as a gym for everyone to attract a wider audience.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Virgin Active’s marketing director Katrina Southey says its recent  campaign ‘Enough’ is part of a wider repositioning plan which started with the launch of a new website featuring relatable imagery and a simpler navigation structure.

“What we wanted to do physically as a Virgin brand was make our offering much more accessible and inclusive. We know the intimidation factor for gyms is really, really high,” she says.

“With the website we had previously we just didn’t feel we were really inviting people in to see what we’re all about in terms of what the gyms look like and the type of people who train with us.”

Virgin Active has also swapped the red associated with the brand for a soft pink logo and is instead using images of regular gym goers rather than fitness buffs on its website and app.

“As part of the repositioning we had to decide how [our website] was all going to look and feel. We wanted to make sure we distanced ourselves from intimidating fitness images and harsh lines,” Southey explains.

“It means we can come across as the warm supportive brand we are.”

READ MORE: Meet the fitness brands tackling fat phobia and industry intimidation

The ‘Enough’ campaign, which rolled out in time for the new year, aims to inspire people to keep their resolutions while encouraging them to find balance with work, social life and fitness.

Before launching the campaign Southey says Virgin Active wanted to find out why it is that, particularly in January, people tend to hit the gym hard before often losing inspiration.

We don’t want to get distracted and compete with every new fitness fad that comes into the market.

Katrina Southey, Virgin Active

“The insights we found were around the fact everybody seems to have these amazing, incredible intentions and resolutions but then life happens and people forget they also have to work, and they have friends and family who they want to socialise with,” she says.

“Our campaign is about being realistic and understanding that it’s actually okay not to throw your whole self at it. Everybody is different. And everybody’s ‘enough’ is different.”

She adds that somebody’s ‘enough’ might be walking to the train station rather than driving.

Southey is also hoping Virgin Active’s new positioning will help reaffirm the fact it is a global player in the fitness industry, while continuing to differentiate itself from competition by leading the way when it comes to product and innovation.

“We don’t want to get distracted and compete with every new fitness fad that comes into the market. We have the experience to stand back and see where the trends are going and what people are looking for, but also really help them enjoy their fitness journey,” she says.

“We want to lead the fitness industry rather than trying to keep up.”

Last year, Virgin Active also introduced a chief experience officer role (held by Anton Brown) to help oversee customer experience and retention, a key metric when measuring success in the gym industry.

And with the rise of fitness apps and niche boutique gyms cropping up, the franchise faces more competition than ever when it comes to retaining members. But that doesn’t phase Southey.

“The market has changed a lot in terms of what people have in the palm of their hand. But it feels like that’s a good thing because we don’t want people to feel like if they’re a member of Virgin Active they’re only confined to our four walls,” she says.

“The digital movement [rise of fitness apps and online videos] is brilliant because it gets more and more people moving because people who might not feel confident or brave enough to go to the gym can use something like that.”

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