NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Cybex is hoping to be a big winner by hooking up with "The Biggest Loser."
Last month, as taping for the NBC show began, contestants started working out at The Biggest Loser Ranch with only one brand of exercise equipment: Cybex. That's because in a recent deal with the show, Cybex became the provider of all the fitness gear participants sweat it out with in a race to lose pounds. The show's estimated average season audience of 9.5 million viewers, per Nielsen Co., will see that Cybex equipment in use for the first time on Sept. 21, when the show airs.
As part of the multi-year agreement, Cybex equipment and signage will be featured on the NBC show. Cybex will also be the fitness equipment provider for The Biggest Loser Resorts, including a new one opening in Malibu, Calif., in September. And the manufacturer, which historically sold its products only to health and fitness centers, golf and country clubs, college athletic departments, YMCAs, hotels and resorts, and firefighters and the military, will under the deal introduce its first consumer version of its Arc Trainer bearing "The Biggest Loser" moniker.
Cybex International CMO Larry Gulko won't disclose the company's annual marketing budget, nor the cost of the deal. He did say that the company didn't have to buy more advertising on NBC or NBC Universal channels in order to get the product placement, the first arrangement of its kind for the marketer.
Arguably, no one is more looking forward to that Sept. 21 date than Mr. Gulko himself. In an interview with Advertising Age, he explained his rationale for "The Biggest Loser," as well as a deal to have Greg Norman become an endorser, and his general philosophy on brand partnerships.
Ad Age: Cybex is going consumer and doing so by hitching its brand to "The Biggest Loser." Why?
Mr. Gulko: Probably 99% of our business is commercial. We sell our fitness equipment in 85 countries. We recognized we had the brand of premium cardio and strength-training equipment and solutions. The reason I sought out "The Biggest Loser" was [because] Cybex's history is very rich in exercise science. We design equipment that we feel is best for the human body. So being body-friendly is important to us. When you look at that and what they've done, even though they're a reality TV show, they're making a huge life-changing difference in people's lives. They're really doing good for human beings out there. The No. 1 reason people work out is people want to feel better, look better and lose weight. These align exactly with Cybex's mission of enhancing people's lives not just physically but emotionally.
Ad Age: But the show's gotten some negative backlash [for contestants putting back on the pounds after the show, for example]. How have you handled that?
Mr. Gulko: I believe it's been blown out of proportion big time. For anybody in any kind of weight-loss program there is a propensity to gain the weight back. But 18,500 pounds have been shed by the contestants since the show started nine years ago and 68% of the contestants have kept the weight off. The tools and the emotional connection that [trainers] Jillian [Michaels] and Bob [Harper] have made with these people -- they have not just physically connected, they've emotionally connected. And if you want to achieve your goals, that can-do attitude -- there's nothing stopping you. Twelve million people watched "The Biggest Loser" every Tuesday evening for two hours last year. And the viewership for "The Biggest Loser" increased by 19% and the viewership for "American Idol" decreased. For Cybex, here was an opportunity to partner [with a show] seen in 90 countries.
Ad Age: How did you determine that was the best strategy for the brand?
Mr. Gulko: I have always felt that a best-selling brand, in order to maximize its value, is really not reliant upon a great marketing campaign. It really is the result of creating a great business story, whether it's Cybex, or Grey Goose or Starbucks. And when you build a great business story, a lot of brand equity takes care of itself. We felt that by expanding our brand into "The Biggest Loser," that would only enhance our business story. We're keeping company with another leading brand. We're reinforcing our leadership position in the categories that we're in.
Ad Age: How will you measure ROI on "The Biggest Loser" deal?
Mr. Gulko: Revenue. (Laughs) I'm being very serious.
Ad Age:What's the date you're going to look to for an uptick in sales?
Mr. Gulko: The fourth quarter of this year.
Ad Age: What percent increase would you like to see?
Mr. Gulko: Like any company, we want something significant and we know that like a plane taking off, it takes a while to get off the ground. You have to have patience, stay focused, and we have to feel we are creating a good foundation for success and we need to make sure we modify our program as necessary to make sure we're on the right path. We have to keep thinking about new initiatives to create more value around both brands.
Ad Age: Why ask Greg Norman to be an endorser?
Mr. Gulko: Greg Norman is the best person, as far as an athlete, that we could have approached to consider becoming our fitness ambassador to the golf industry. For the last 15 years, Greg Norman's been a customer of Cybex. You have to be authentic, you have to be the real deal. You have to communicate your authenticity, otherwise people won't trust you. Greg Norman is in great shape, he lives and breathes Cybex, so why wouldn't we want to align with him to endorse Cybex? He's creating a lot of value for Cybex.
Ad Age: What overlap exists between "Biggest Loser" watchers and Greg Norman golf club members?
Mr. Gulko: There's no overlap because Greg is strictly working with us on the golf market. We've been involved with Greg since last December. We have gotten calls from colleges and resorts who want to talk to us because of the Greg Norman relationship because they hold him in such high esteem.