Fitness Claims and Marketing – How Our Emotions Control Us

As I progress in my studies (both academic and personal reading), I am becoming more intrigued with the how’s and why’s regarding our decision-making processes.  The more I learn about emotions and the psyche, the better I understand just how powerful the manipulation of one’s mind can be.

In the fitness industry, as well as others, there’s some mad cash to be made.  Take a look at any fitness magazine and the contents are flooded with advertisements.  Most, but not all fitness websites have some form of advertising in place or a product to generate revenue.

Go to any commercial gym and I can guarantee you there are people whose job is solely to generate revenue by initiating and closing sales of personal training packages and gym contracts/memberships.

It’s hard to say this for certain, but my hunch tells me gone are the days in which a personal trainer does nothing but train clients all day.  Given the economy, if they aren’t learning to market and sell their services, their business is likely drying up.

Since my dear friend Ryan Zielonka unofficially tagged me as the Fitness Consumers Advocate, I wanted to cover a few things I’m fairly passionate about.  Those things are the following: people, emotions, and the power of persuasion.

Before I get into it all, I guess I’ll give a brief background.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve always been able to build rapport with just about anyone I’ve met.  It doesn’t matter if it’s over the phone, in person, or in the written word.  Even though I am far from being a great writer or speaker, I know how to convey a message.  I know how to connect.

Along with this ability, I’ve also become more aware about the power of persuasion, how I’ve subconsciously used it in the past and I how I continually use it today.  Up until the present date, I’ve been fairly consistent with getting others to open up, spill the beans about (insert topic of conversation), see my point of view and eventually come over to my side of the fence (or at least consider doing so).

So, in a sense, you can call me a salesman.  But I’m not the type of salesman you’re probably imagining.  No, you won’t find me in the blue suit with a red tie.  And you won’t see me across the desk, in a heated room, cramming features and benefits down your throat any time soon.

You’re likely to find me having a random exchange with a girl I just met in the line at Starbucks or with the person sitting next to me on a long flight (hey Candice).  By the end of the conversation, we’ve both sold each other on something.

My point is this.  The world of marketing and sales is nothing more than an exchange or a conversation on a grand scale.  Every time you meet someone new, you’re selling yourself, and your ideas, whether you like it or not.

And in closing to that, it’s time we discuss a few ideas related to this whole marketing and sales process, especially within the fitness realm.

Tangibles Versus Intangibles

It’s probably up for debate as to what sells best because every scenario can be unique in the fact that people differ, as do products, atmospheres, etc.  There are always a ton of variables present.

But in my opinion, intangibles are what pierce the heart.  Sure, it’s easy for me to sit across from you, present a new fitness gadget, and drill you about what it does.  But that’s boring.

I could take it even further and tell you what it can do for you once you begin to use it.  While we’re starting to get somewhere, you’re probably not going to buy from me.

Now I can take it a step further and get you involved.  I’d have you begin using it.  I would demonstrate how easy it is to configure, and then reveal how it complements your goals perfectly.

And here is where the magic happens.

Now if the process has been going as it should, I’d already taken the time to learn more about your needs and wants.  During the demonstration, my number one goal at this point is to build a connection and bridge the gap between what I have to offer and your needs.

All the while this is going on, my focus is on the intangibles (things we cannot see or touch but imagine, feel and become emotional about).  I would explain how this gadget is going to help you get down to a size 4 again or how it’s going to help you shed those 100lbs as fast as possible.  I’d paint pictures of the drastic transformation you’re about to experience and how glad you’re going to be.

This is why the beauty lies within selling intangibles.

For most of the fitness crowd who are seeking quick-fixes, weight loss pills or muscle-building solutions, selling the intangibles always takes precedence.

Feelings and Emotions Make Us Do Some Crazy Stuff

Just about everything we do is to feel good or better.  Think about it.  If you’re tired, in order to feel better, you rest.  If you’re hungry, the only way to relieve the discomfort is to eat something.

If you’re afraid of doing something because you know it will hurt or hinder you, your brain does everything in its power to keep you from these feelings and emotions associated with such pain.

In this case, our minds are working for, not against us.

But what about when our emotions are manipulated to a point that we act on them despite knowing better?  What about when they trump all logic, reasoning and previously acquired knowledge?

Many decisions are made in the emotional state as opposed to a logical state.  Our emotions can work for or against us – it just depends on the situation and our mental clarity.

We all differ in temperaments and decision-making abilities but we all share a common trait:  we are human beings who will, at some point, let our emotions get the best of us.

Without stereotyping too much it’s safe to say men are more cognitive-minded (“I think”) while women are more emotionally-minded (“I feel”) according to The Battle Between Thoughts and Emotions in Persuasion.

However, it’s not always this cut and dry.  Many men make decisions based on emotions as many women focus more so on logic.  But as I mentioned earlier, we are human.  Thusly, we’re susceptible to making decisions based purely on emotion alone.

In the heat of the moment, you really can never predict how you might act.

Buyers’ Remorse and Cognitive Dissonance

Ah ha – those dreaded, negative thoughts and feelings that we’ve all experienced at one time or another following our decision to purchase.

It’s a common feeling, especially when we look back at our decision and see we used no logic or factual reasoning whatsoever.

“Did I really need to buy that $200 pair of Nikes when a similar model for a third of the price would have sufficed?”

“Did I really need to eat the entire pie during Thanksgiving dinner?”

“Was that Hovetrekke home exerbike really worth the price?  Was it really what I needed?”

The answer to those questions is no, yet we still make a decision to buy regardless.  And in hindsight, if you could remove all emotion from the purchase and focus solely on reasoning and logic, we’d have never made the purchase in the first place.

Now Give Me Your Money
Allow me to display some examples we often see on the long sales pages, in magazines and sometimes on television.

Drastically Transform Your Physique in only 19 Days!  Experience Permanent
Fat Loss With Minimal Time Investment.

Hi, I’m JC and within the next 5 minutes, I’m going to reveal to you the Most Powerful Techniques Ever Developed that will turn your body into a Fat Burning Machine!

And here’s the cool thing – this technique has always been around but only available to the elite athletes and physique competitors we’re all familiar with.

When you combine this secret technique with my detailed diet plan, you can triple your fat loss efforts.  It’s been proven over and over again to Increase Your Metabolism by 327%!

So yes, in just 3 short weeks, you can be on the fast track to the Body of Your Dreams – yes, the technique is that Effective.

What I’m doing here is building a belief that I have something no one else does.  If you’re like most people who want results, you want them yesterday.  If I were to continue going with this type of sales technique, I’d slowly dig into how my knowledge, product, or whatever is going to fulfill your need.

And it’s really not too hard because most people in this niche want to lose fat, build muscle or improve performance.  So, in this case, we’d write some sales copy that caters to the individual need, offer a solution and create an emotionally-based reason to buy.

And the reason to buy comes from selling the intangibles we discussed earlier on.

Here’s another example:

But you need to act soon.  I’m only allowing 1000 applicants into my new program.  Out of that 1000, I will extend a qualification questionnaire to 500 individuals.

Out of the 500, I will only select 254 participants from that group to participate in my Fat Loss Breakthrough Course.  This offer is only open until the 1000 applications are in.  Once the 1000th person signs up, I will close the door for 6 months.  Next time though, the price will likely double.  Well, that’s just assuming I even run this promotion ever again…

What I’m doing here is creating a sense of urgency; a competitive environment causing you to feel like you’re missing out on something if you don’t act immediately.  In this case, the fear of loss will cause you to act out of emotion as opposed to logic because you’re afraid someone else will get it before you do.

If you were thinking logically, you would know that anyone with the chance to make way more than 254 sales would be stupid to cut it off for 6 months at a time (no one is really going to do this unless it’s a very special circumstance).

You’d also realize (especially if you’ve been reading here or anything Alan Aragon, Lyle McDonald, Martin Berkhan or Matt Perryman have written) that no one owns any real secrets.  There’s nothing new under the sun and 9 times out of 10, really awesome content is not going to be found through cheesy sales pages or over-priced ebooks (although there are exceptions).

And here’s a targeted example:

Lose ALL of the Baby Weight in WEEKS not MONTHS

Imagine getting your pre-baby body back within a few short weeks, not months!  With a few simple movements, and only 2 workouts per week, you can be back to your original weight in no time.

Gone are the days or dieting or excessive working out to get the body of your dreams.

No need to feel deprived or hungry.  You’ll actually be eating more while you turn your body into a fat-melting furnace.

Here, our focus is to manipulate the new mother who’s desperately searching to revisit her pre-pregnancy shape.  And guess what?  She’ll likely buy if we push the right emotional buttons and give her a reason to believe we have the answer.

Too bad she doesn’t realize it’s going to take much longer than a few weeks and that she’ll have to watch her intake closely as well.

So How Do We Make Better Decisions?

I admit – it’s hard to disseminate between facts and utter BS sometimes.  Some people simply have a gift with words and their copywriting is flawless.

It’s really hard when you add a visual to the copy, which is providing (false) proof that whatever they’re saying actually works.  Ever seen an ad in a magazine for a creatine product and the model holding it is clearly on a weekly gram of testosterone and other pharmaceuticals?

Even though you may (or may not) understand he’s on the sauce, you might struggle with the fact that the creatine is not what made him into a behemoth.

That’s the power of advertising and marketing.  We love to believe what we see and what our emotions tell us, despite all logic and rationale.

Here’s my recipe for not being a sucker if you’re prone to letting your emotions ruin all ability to think logically.  And yea, a lot of people (marketers) are probably going to hate me for this.  But such is life.

  • Take a Step Back – Fo real, yo.  Just take a step back.  If you’ve got your hand on the credit card and you’re about to flesh out some mad cash for a product that you’re pretty excited about after reading a 10,000 word sales page, it might be a good idea to let it stew for a few days.  If and only if, you’re as (or more) excited as you once were, then go ahead and make the exchange.  Chances are, the excitement will die down and you’ll come to your senses.
  • Seek Advice – Talk to a friend or mentor – someone who can be objective about the purchase decision.  Ask them what they think about it.  Hell, email me if you want to.
  • Think Logically (very hard at times when emotions are involved) – Think about WHY you’re feeling a certain way and why you want to make a decision so quickly.  What is the basis behind your decision?  Is it logical?

So now that you’re well on your way to being a more conscious fitness consumer – share some stories in the comments about previous emotional buying experiences if you have any!  If you’re embarrassed, use an alias – I won’t tell.

51 thoughts on “Fitness Claims and Marketing – How Our Emotions Control Us”

  1. I think a lot of these sales pitches are geared toward women IMO. Particularly those women who’ve given birth. And I’m here to tell you that the baby weight takes a long time to come off. It took you nine months to put it on, it’ll take at least that long to shed it. Even if you do lose the weight fairly quickly, you will not have a taut, tight appearance to your stomach. No siree! That takes months and months of dedication and eating well while exercising regularly to have a prepregnancy appearance to your stomach. Sorry but that’s the truth.

    My youngest is six and just this year, I feel like ‘I’m back’. I’ve had family members and close friends tell me that I look better than before I had children. It can be done, I’m living proof but just not overnight like the knuckleheads in these ads would lead us to believe. Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!

  2. Thanks for sending me this link, I loved the article! I feel 100% that I’m on the loosing end of this article though. Now that I really think about it, I did want to purchase a few months of personal training sessions bc I was at the time emotionally unstable, having boyfriend problems, and just wanted to do better for myself and feel better. The trainer i spoke to really picked up on my weakness and dove in, the sales began. From the beginning I was hesitant about signing any papers bc of his pushy pitch type demeanor but i let him talk me into it. But here’s where I’m to blame, I didn’t read the fine print! Call me naive and too trusting if you must but I actually believed him when he said the time we would be working together would be 3 months and I could quit when I wanted. That’s not what the papers said that I signed; I locked myself into a 12 month contract for $200/month without even realizing it!! So not only do I feel like a complete idiot for letting this happen, I will never look at any “fitness professional” the same again. And to be honest I don’t even want to go to this gym anymore. With all that being said, I am guilty of letting emotions and high ended sales pitches, along with not reading the fine print, get the best of me. I have learned my lesson and I hope others can learn from my mistakes as well!

  3. Damnit, JC. You just stole all of my copy ideas for Beautiful Badass. Guess I’ll have to come up with something even more ground-breaking, magical, and innovative.

  4. Here are some of my rules for buying fitness/marketing/self-help products, earned through pain:

    1. If it’s sold through a long-form sales letter or other hard sell, don’t buy it. Seriously. A) it can’t possibly live up to the hype even if it’s somewhat good and B) you’ll just encourage them to sell like that again which means you’ll be focused on buying magic bullets instead of working your ass off like you should.

    2. If you feel pressured at all by the salesman, don’t buy it…or anything from that person. Just leave immediately.

    3. If the price ends in “7,” don’t buy it. I recently violated this principle and regretted it.

    4. If you can’t find any objective, rational-sounding reviews but only 5-star or affiliate smoke and mirrors reviews, don’t buy it.

    5. If it’s sold at a reasonable/fair price without excessive hype and given decent but non-ass-kissing objective reviews, and it seems like it meets your specific goals, consider buying it (but be prepared to do a LOT of work). Work the plan for at least 3 months before buying anything else.

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  6. Though I used to and most people do, I think it’s somewhat of a misconception to classify emotional thinking and logical thinking as two completely different things. While that seems intuitive, it is necessary to question why we would consider a conclusion logical. For example, you could ask someone, “Why do you work?” They might respond, “To pay the bills.” It’s wrong to think there is no emotion involved in such reasoning. Question the reasoning behind the reasoning, “Why do you pay the bills?” You might think, “In order to survive.” However, do not end the querying with the conclusion that that is a solely logical answer. Question it too, “Why do you want to survive?” At first glance, such a question may seem ridiculous – but seriously, consider it. Why do we really want to survive? From an abstract (macroscopic) perspective it’s simply innate desire – it’s emotions. (From a microscopic perspective, a neurologist might talk about these biological pathways, then the physicist might talk about quantum mechanics, blah blah blah down the path of reasonings behind reasonings behind reasonings behind…) So, it’s really just layered: logical thoughts happen because it results in the largest net amount of positive emotions. In other words, logical thinking attempts to optimize happiness.

    With that said, I don’t believe people are necessarily “acting out of emotions” since emotions really do guide EVERYTHING we do. While rollercoaster leaps in emotion may have a large effect on mental clarity and may result in purely illogical decisions, I think most of those people are simply ignorant (not in a negative way, but in the naive way) and do not have the logical tools in order to make the best decision (optimize positive feelings). These tools are for the most part just information: experience, statistics, etc. However, with the tools they have, it really is logical that they buy into these scams. I mean, cmon, it’s illogical to not want to gain 10 lbs of muscle and lose 20 lbs of fat in two weeks. They simply don’t have knowledge of realistic expectations in manipulating body composition. They have to acclimate to it like everyone else: by reading articles like yours, making the mistake themselves, experiencing scams in another industry – anything to tell them in future prospects, “There is a good chance this could be scam.”

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  8. Definitely some great info here, but I think sometimes people need to screw up a few times on their own. Like you said, most of us (myself included) are able to be manipulated by our emotions – especially when it involves something we’re so passionate about. I think it’s necessary for some people to buy stupid shit to realize it was a stupid decision. They’ll learn pretty quick that there aren’t any shortcuts in fitness and hopefully benefit from that knowledge. Awesome read nonetheless!

  9. One name comes to mind..VINCE DELMONTE. Just caught his new scam(cos lets face it, that’s what they are) Tag line: “Let me show you the secret bodybuilders have been keeping from you. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot gain 20lbs of pure muscle in 21 days!”(The 21 Day Fast Mass Building Program)
    In this day and age, with all the info available, if anyone falls for this nonsense, then quite frankly, they deserve the out of pocket expense and the time wasted.

      • I purchase one Vince Product and even like but when I start to be flooded with his nonsense market emails I become very disappointed and disbelief him. :(

        The spell turn on the caster. :/

        • Actually, I see no point in debate with this ‘fitness guru’. They will not change their minds or admit their are wrong or change their business. If you are aware of them, just keep distance.

          I think what JC is doing here very productive and a great source for who WANT to be informed.

          These products/programs aren’t all bad, just overrated and ornate by theirs sellers.

          • You know, I’ll never criticize them personally because they’re business people just as many of us are. I’m cool with making money as we all need to eat and live just like every other person.

            But here is my problem with all these “products.” I’ve seen some of the goods these internet marketers are selling for $47, $97, $147 and above. This is just my humble opinion but they are NOT worth the disk space required to house them. Why don’t you pick up a real book by Alan Aragon, Lyle McDonald or Tom Venuto? Hell, go to the bookstore and get Nate Green’s Built for Show – you’ll be much better off with a sound training program and it’ll cost you a lot less. It’s seriously like 14 bucks!

            In all honesty, it makes me sick that people are merely buying as a result of being conned through a sales page. My idea is that once they receive the product, they’re filled with utter disgust and disappointment with the goods delivered while these gurus laugh all the way to the bank.


            • ^^word. Exactly, these people have mouths to feed, bills to pay just like everyone else. Just like what JC said, what these people contribute is just merely confusion to the public. People love buying BS because people love taking the easy route. However, anything that do not require some patience and hard work will never be worth achieving.

            • LOL! :)

              I totally agree with your point, JC, but books haven’t appealing sales pages. :/ The people think it contains rocket science or isn’t for them.

              Sadly, I learned from my own mistake.

            • “My idea is that once they receive the product, they’re filled with utter disgust and disappointment with the goods delivered while these gurus laugh all the way to the bank.”

              I’m sure you’re familiar with the notion of “cognitive dissonance.” Ever wondered why people who buy ridiculously overpriced fitness products often become raving lunatic cult-worshipers of their chosen guru? Now you know.

              Instead of admitting we were swindled, that the product we purchased perhaps had some useful information but also a lot of junk and was seriously overpriced and we were basically manipulated into buying it, it’s often easier for us to justify our purchase by saying that it’s the best thing EVAR.

          • Until I came across JC’s site I had been sitting on the sidelines but I am just fed up with all the B.S. being shovel by the so-called experts.

            I don’t have an issue with the programs but the way they are being promoted. And I debate them because by doing so others might start using their brains and take a second look at things before dumping their money on them.

            If just one person starts to question things then I did my job. I just wish I could write like JC.

            I must of looked at over 100 programs and have yet to find anything special but I will say that I have also learned about new ways of training that I was not aware of so not all was lost. LOL

      • The 1000repmuscle one had me roaring with laughter. wow. Beyond being a business man, I think Vince is the equivalent of a Bernie Maddoff type i.e takes your money for nothing. He clearly knows the program will lead to failure for most and duplicitously shows “proof clients” to fortify his claims.
        The new program is in partnershp with another “Bro”, Lee Hayward. Visit his website and your fitness/nutrition/resistance knowledge immediately drops 50 points.

  10. Hey buddy great article as usual. yeah great sales copy and throw in some fancy terms and most will bit.

    Trust me I have enough experience and knowledge to know better yet sometimes find myself wanting to believe what I am reading and yes those before and after pics don’t help.

    It amazes me how many people will believe that a person has found a way to gain 34 lbs of muscle in 4 weeks doing XYZ. LOL

    Dang I need to finish that fitness book I started. LOL

    Keep up the good work JC.

  11. You hit the nail on the head with this post! It’s so true that people do not think logically when purchasing. But when it’s a product that appears to magically improve their body, most people will become entranced with the seemingly outrageous claims. And it’s hard to distinguish between the bs and truth since all they can think about is the beautiful model on the sales page claiming they lost half their body weight by taking a pill. But when we all know she didn’t know about the product before she auditioned for the role.
    I remember a few years back about an investigative report that a diet product used a pretty manipulative marketing tactic. They paid fit people to stop working out and to gain weight for the “before” pictures. Then had them get on the diet (with regular workouts in small print) and since they obviously got into shape, they had great “after” pics. But worse yet, they could legally have a doctor report about the improved bodies.
    I’m a marketer by profession. But I never take a client on without fully believing in their product or service. In fact, I would say that I’ve passed on about 80% of potential work because of this.
    Great post!

    • thanks for stopping by. It’s nice to have another professional here who believes in doing good through our marketing efforts.

  12. Well put JC! I’ve always thought that big biceps = knowledge *wink*
    It’s really hard to figure out which advice is legit nowadays. Critical analogy and healthy skepticism always come both handy. Any reputable fitness advice should be approached with an open mind.

  13. I believed all the innocent enough myths at first. And so I was eating too often — and too much in general — using some high volume six day split. I read more, and learned more, thus my diet tightened up, and my routine began to resemble something a normal person could attempt. I still did too much, however, because moderation is a concept I struggle to apply.

    And for that work load, for all that obsession and neurosis, I was not happy with where I was at. That, I think, is the most impressive trick that the fitness industry turns. They manage to convince, by virtue of their constant touting of more and better, that what you have isn’t enough, and that what you’re doing is wrong.

    Your gains are suffering. Your strength is lagging. Your bf% is too high. In subtle ways — and some direct — I was convinced. I needed their pills, and the solutions they provided. And so I spent money no college student really has on supplements that, by in large, did nothing. Those that worked, I abused, with consequences. Suffice it to say, your hormones are not to be messed with.

    Several months of prohormone and thermogenetic overdosing, and I was a lethargic shell. Granted, I was a jacked shell. But that changed soon enough.

    One night, the stinging pain in my right abdomen became too much. I drove to the E.R., and found that I had the liver of an alcoholic, the pancreas of a diabetic, and a gall bladder that would burst in days. It took several weeks to get that all sorted, and by the time I returned to the gym, all the progress I had purchased was gone.

    The next several months included one more trip to the E.R., to treat my inflamed pancreas, and many more doctor visits to try and fix what I had done.

    This all ended, if I can say that it has, this spring. I’ve worked hard, and gained a substantial portion of my muscle mass back. Granted, I’m not where I was in those “glory days” — which were, of course, anything but. As for my health, I’m happy — and lucky — to report that everything is fine. There is no reason to believe that there will be further issues.

    So I suppose that’s a happy ending. And I should say, I take responsibility for my own actions, and the neurosis that fed them. But certainly, I was influenced. And that is my story about that.

  14. Haha, nice one JC,I feel you are becoming better and better at marketing, I also study it in school ( but mostly home ) and I must say that in the past, many more people than today would fall in the “Drastically transform your physique in only 19 days”, but the small population that is going to fall for it, would be enough for the seller to make some good profit and move on with “fat loss bibles”…
    Kinda sad sometimes when I see such idiotic decisions based on feelings… but the hardest part is when you try to change their belief, it’s like hitting a wall with your head, the probability of changing their minds is smaller than the probability of shitting your pants.

    And a little story:
    Last year ( my 2nd college year) I was staying in a hostel with 4 other students.The thing here was that one of the colleagues had 294 pounds…he was intelligent tho, I admired him for the jokes he did ( you had to have some iq in order to understand his jokes) .. but even a good mind can fall into traps that you pointed..
    He was desperate to loose weigh and he was trying to find on the internet an easy remedy..a fast solution….if it was possible without weight training..( he was kinda shy to go to the gym because of his condition) and felled into the acay berry bandwagon … Man he was so excited after reading an acay berry salespage that before I even started to tell him why the product is a scam he was already sold onto the idea that acay berry was the solution to his problems.
    He was using amphetamines also…
    So a good placed salespage can do wonders…

    • oh wow. the acai berry thing really gets on my nerves. you are right – a nicely written sales page with a few testimonials will do WONDERS for tricking people out of their money.

      • Testimonials really do wonders! People use to believe more in another consumer than in the seller. People just didn’t realize that the testimonials come not from ordinary people but from very committed people that should get the very same (or better) result in any other way.

  15. Is incredible how you are describing the fitness industry! I fall in this ‘trap’. Not bad at all but I am very disappointed. I am not expecting some magic solution or the ultimate program or something else, but bother me to realize that the person who sells this things is more a salesman than a trainer. He put way more effort on marketing than into make a really good product!

    We learn from our errors… So I thinks this bad decisions make me a more aware consumer.

    • well, sure. we should always learn from our mistakes. It’s just a shame that the industry plays so much on our emotions.

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