Yard Strength, Inc.

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Yard Strength, Inc.

1106 Hermosa Avenue
Hermosa Beach, California 90254
Telephone: (310) 376-4011
Fax: (310) 376-1341
Web site: www.yardstrength.com



Despite rising cases of obesity and gestational diabetes in the United States, one of the fastest-growing American business sectors during the late 1990s was the health and fitness industry. Between 1988 and 2002 memberships at health clubs in the United States rose 95 percent and yielded more than $12 billion in annual sales. An estimated 58 million individuals attended the 18,000 gyms nationwide during 2001. To gain ground on its Los Angeles-area competition, which included the much-larger Sports Club Company chain, Yard Strength, Inc., released a campaign titled after its only gym, Yard Fitness Center, in 2001.

Created by Los Angeles-based agency JC Advertising, the "Yard Fitness Center" campaign, which cost $12,000, consisted of only two television spots that appeared on local ESPN, Fox, and TBS stations. The Yard Fitness Center was located in Hermosa Beach, 22 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles. Differentiating it from nearby gyms that advertised with in-club events and print ads, the August 2001 campaign's television spots suggested that gym members did not necessarily exercise for health reasons but simply to look better without clothes on. The television spot "Coverage" humorously began with a group of men playing basketball on public courts. Much to the unease of everyone playing, one of the more obnoxious players wore nothing but socks, sneakers, eyeglasses, and a headband. The spots ended with the tagline "Feel comfortable in your own skin" and the Yard Fitness Center logo.

Despite the fitness center's meager budget and single 4,500-square-foot facility, "Yard Fitness Center" achieved ad-industry success usually reserved for larger corporations. It won an award for Low Budget Campaign at the London International Advertising Awards and a Bronze Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival. "Yard Fitness Center" also increased awareness of the gym in Los Angeles. For the year following the campaign, Yard Fitness Center received thousands of E-mails from consumers who had enjoyed the commercials.


Located in Hermosa Beach, California, the Yard Fitness Center expanded between 1994 and 2005 to become a reputable high-end gymnasium within the Los Angeles coastal community. With one 4,500-square-foot facility, cutting-edge fitness machines, more than 10,000 pounds of free weights, and a boxing center, the gym appealed to some of the world's best professional athletes and Olympians. Much of the center's early publicity arose from magazines—such as Benningan's Health & Fitness, HEAT Volleyball Magazine, and Muscle Media—publishing articles about the gym's charismatic owner, Jeremy "Troll" Subin. Subin was a former National Championship powerlifter whose career highlights included competing for the United States at competitions in the Soviet Union. While overseeing the Yard Fitness Center he began training professional athletes such as the Dodgers' MVP catcher Mike Piazza; Rookie of the Year Eric Karros, also a Dodger; and three-time Olympic volleyball medalist Steve Timmons. In the South Bay Weekly, Jason Kendall, catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, stated, "Troll helps me stay strong for 162 games without losing my flexibility. I'm different from Karros, and I'm different from Piazza. I'm a guy who has to use my flexibility, and that's what Troll focuses on."

Outside of the favorable press coverage and word-of-mouth praise, the Yard Fitness Center did little to advertise. Subin occasionally used his personal success to endorse the fitness center. In an issue of Benningan's Health & Fitness, he stated, "If you really want to improve your performance and prevent injuries, you need to train like an athlete, regardless of your level. At The Yard, we've carefully selected high-end equipment to help both professional athletes and 'civilians' maximize their physical potential." A few ads appeared in local publications with photographs of Mike Piazza or Eric Karros beside the gym's logo. Taglines for the ads read, "Where the good people are," or "Where preparation meets opportunity."


The campaign's first spot, "Coverage," targeted 20- to 40-year-old male sports enthusiasts, and the second spot, "Dressed For Dinner," featuring an easygoing naked couple going to dinner with another couple, who wore clothes, targeted 20- to 40-year-old women. Both groups of consumers differed from the Yard Fitness Center's previous target: athletes. "For this campaign, we targeted sports enthusiasts that enjoyed sports. Even though we previously targeted athletes, they only made up 2 percent of our clientele," Subin said. "We knew athletes would keep coming in because of our reputation, but this campaign was going to target the masses." Between 1988 and 2002 memberships at U.S. health clubs rose 95 percent. The average gym member had changed during that period as well. In 1987 Americans 55 years old and up constituted only 9 percent of gym members, but the number had jumped to 17 percent by 2002.


The Sports Club Company, Inc., one of the most elite high-end fitness organizations in Los Angeles, carried memberships with some of America's best-known celebrities, such as Michael Jordan and Tom Cruise. Branded as the Sports Club, the Los Angeles-based gym prided itself as being the "Ritz-Carlton of gyms" and limited its advertising to on-site promotions, a newsletter, and cross-promotions with brands such as Giorgio Armani, American Airlines, and luxury watch manufacturer Audemars Piguet. In 2001 the Sports Club did not release print, television, or other traditional forms of advertisement. The club's cofounder, Nanette Pattee Francini, said in American Demographics that the Sports Club positioned itself as "a sanctuary from daily life. We don't do really blatant advertising." The chain of nine clubs, two of which were in the Los Angeles area, posted $102 million in sales for 2001, a 33 percent increase from 2000.

America's largest fitness chain, Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp., boasted 415 gyms and posted $852 million in sales for 2001. The corporation's flagship club, Bally Total Fitness, allowed outside brands to dispense free samples to members inside their gym. According to the trade group Promotion Marketing Association's Product Sampling and Demonstration Council, 68 percent of gym members were excited about receiving free samples. In 2001 Bally allowed consumer-product giant Unilever, which owned brands such as Dove, Bird's Eye, and Hellman's, to sponsor "Dove Days." This promotion, for which club staffers wore Dove apparel, included free fitness classes for Bally members. Female members were handed Dove Body Refreshers upon entering the gyms. To target calorie-conscious consumers, Kraft Foods placed coupons for its low-fat cheese products in Bally gyms during 2001. The coupons could be redeemed for a complimentary, 14-day Bally membership or $75 towards a future membership. The promotion was advertised in consumer magazines such as People, Shape, and Reader's Digest. Bally allowed similar promotions with Sunkist Growers, the Kellogg Company, and Eastman Kodak Company.


One of "Yard Fitness Center" campaign's two commercials, "Coverage," was filmed in six hours and featured a group of clothed, uncomfortable men trying to play basketball with one naked player. Even though the main actor wore nothing but a "small device" to cover his genitalia, the spot was filmed in a public park next to a daycare center.


The "Yard Fitness Center" campaign's two spots, "Coverage" and "Dressed For Dinner," were written by JC Advertising's Josh Caplan and directed by Backyard Production's Kevin Smith. A writer for the Creative Review commented that the campaign "proposes that people go to the gym not to feel healthy, but to look good naked." The first 30-second spot, "Coverage," began with a close-up of three basketball players whispering at the edge of a public basketball court. "I can't cover this guy, man," one said. Another pleaded, "I don't wanna cover him." The third implored, "What're we gonna do?" The camera then showed the player no one wanted to cover: a trash-talking, frizzy-haired player wearing nothing but shoes, socks, glasses, and a headband. The naked player shouted to the three whispering, "OK, ladies. Let's go. Time-out's over."

The spot then showed the naked man, with his genitalia blurred, frightening off opponents with full-body presses and other physical contact that, had he been wearing clothes, would be considered appropriate during a basketball game. At one point the naked man jumped for a slam dunk and, much to the dismay of an opponent, pressed his groin into the opponent's face. Unapologetic, the naked man shouted, "You want a piece of me?" The commercial continued with the nudist scoring and trash-talking opponents until the spot faded blue and the tagline, "Feel comfortable in your own skin," appeared. The logo for Yard Fitness and its Hermosa Beach address followed. Director Kevin Smith told Advertising Age's Creativity, "It seemed doable and it seemed like it might be pretty funny. But it would be very easy to take it over the top." As for encouraging the actors' disgust towards the nearly naked antagonist, Smith continued, "That's pretty much the natural reaction someone would have playing basketball with a naked guy."

The second spot, "Dressed For Dinner," began when a naked, 30-something woman opened the door to a clothed man and woman who were immediately dumbstruck by her lack of attire. They couple was obviously meeting the naked woman for dinner at a restaurant. "Oh, hi guys," greeted the naked woman, sounding cheerful. The spot became more absurd when the woman's husband appeared wearing only a tie, black socks, and black shoes. "Rog isn't wearing a tie," the naked man pleaded with his wife. "No," she said, grinning at his tie. "You're wearing it."

Conceptually, the 30-second spot followed "Coverage" by featuring individuals, who after apparently joining the Yard Fitness Center, felt extremely comfortable without their clothes on. "Dressed For Dinner" ended the same way the other spot had, with the tagline and the Yard logo. The final shot featured the naked man looking completely content and settling into the front seat of the clothed man's minivan. "Wow," he said as his naked body squeaked over the leather seats, "leather—I like it." The clothed man's eyes opened wide with revulsion.


According to Yard Fitness Center president, Jeremy "Troll" Subin, the campaign "Caused quite a disturbance. Some people thought we were crazy." Commercial Closet, an organization dedicated to improving public sensibilities toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues within advertisement, attacked "Coverage" for using "fear of same-sex attraction (homophobia) or 'inappropriate' gender behavior (transphobia)—accompanied by a horrific reaction by someone straight—as their source of humor." The spot "Coverage" was placed into a category of commercials that "[did] not meet Commercial Closet's Best Practices."

For the months following the campaign, the Yard Fitness Center did not record a significant rise in gym memberships. A year later, however, its brand awareness began to grow. The campaign's blend of absurdity and nudity was smiled upon at some of the largest advertising award shows of 2002. Even though the campaign's budget was a mere $12,000, "Coverage" won a Bronze Lion at the 2002 Cannes International Advertising Festival. The "Yard Fitness Center" campaign also won Low Budget Campaign of the year at the 2002 London International Advertising Awards. "Coverage" made the shortlist for the western United States region of AdForum magazine's first Creative Hits awards, which allowed AdForum website visitors to rate commercials online. By mid-2002, after the commercials were repeated on several network shows showcasing America's funniest commercials, Yard Fitness Center received thousands of E-mails and phone calls from people who had enjoyed the spots.


Jeremy Subin, owner of the Yard Fitness Center, preferred to be called "Troll" by gym members and colleagues. The 5′2′, 175-lb fitness expert trained a plethora of Los Angeles-based athletes, including baseball's 1993 Rookie of the Year, Mike Piazza, and Eric Karros, the 1992 Rookie of the Year. Subin monitored the athletes' diets and heart rates and also changed their training regimens to involve medicine-ball tosses, baseball drills, and Olympic weight-lifting drills.


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                                             Kevin Teague