On Fitness Island

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When fitness island begins its nationwide tour of shopping malls this month, thousands of consumers will get a day at the "beach" and several marketers will get access to them.

The event, slated for high-traffic malls, got high marks from two recent tests in Boston and Seattle, and is an example of the growing number of mall marketing events designed to get measurable results.

The goal was to create an experience that would get consumers to spend hours sampling products -- and providing feedback -- at a mall without orienting the event around a dominant sponsor.

"Too many event marketing efforts are designed around a single title sponsor, which doesn't always serve the consumer's best interests," said David Marinoff, president of New York-based Davenport Works, which conceived the event and lined up sponsors.

"To avoid that trap, we started with a generic event we knew consumers would enjoy, and then we sought out sponsors that could adapt to the event instead of the other way around," he said.

DRAWING MALL VISITORS

A veteran event marketer who created the highly successful "Baywatch Search" series of mall tours in the early 1990s that led to dozens of shoppers making guests appearances on TV's "Baywatch," Mr. Marinoff said a beach theme is usually a top draw for mall visitors.

Davenport Works, targeting consumers interested in health and fitness, created an island experience incorporating sports, games for the body and mind, and even relaxation, with sponsors hosting various activities.

Fitness Island visits a shopping center for two days over a weekend. Everything is free of charge, and consumers can stay as long as they like -- many families are staying for hours and coming back the next day to repeat the experience, event organizers said.

Consumers visiting Fitness Island get to scale a 25-foot indoor rock climbing wall; participate in aerobics and ride "spinning" exercise bicycles; shoot basketball hoops; jump on a trampoline; learn about sailing and surfing in a simulated water zone; observe demonstrations in yoga, tai-chi and feng shui; and practice golf putting.

But it's not all exercise and sports. Brother International came aboard as a sponsor to demonstrate some of its small business products, and said consumers were so enthusiastic during the test that Fitness Island now is serving as a showcase for Brother's full line of general business machine products including copiers.

`LET CONSUMERS TRY OUT STUFF'

"We wanted to get our newest products into consumers' hands, and Fitness Island turned out to be a great way to let consumers try our stuff out for themselves," said Dean F. Shulman, Brother's senior VP-marketing.

Consumers passing through Brother's "Image Isle" zone in Fitness Island are required to make a badge for themselves using Brother's new $49 Backster home laminating system, and add their names using Brother's P-touch label-making systems for home and office.

"Consumers really enjoy being in control, and the atmosphere of Fitness Island is all about letting people do their own thing. More than 200 people line up to play with the equipment on their own," said Keith Klein, senior VP-account services for MSA Advertising, New York, agency for Brother.

In "Fitville," Bally Total Fitness is sponsoring spinning classes using Schwinn Cycling & Fitness' special stationary bicycles. Most visitors are not members of health clubs and 90% have never seen spinning, so the classes are geared to novices.

Bally provides instructors, and local Schwinn dealers in each market provide the bikes; each provides consultations and opportunities for consumers to learn more about joining the health club or buying home exercise equipment.

INTRODUCING SPINNING

"Spinning has been around at health clubs for several years now, but many consumers are still unaware of it and we're starting to see a big movement toward sales of spinning bikes for home use," said Tracey Harvey, national sales director for Schwinn.

Other sponsors of Fitness Island include Off-the-lip.com, a Web site offering merchandise and information about water sports and surfing; Sports Illustrated; and Winstar Video, maker of wellness tapes and other media. Spirit of a Woman, a non-profit organization promoting health and fitness among women, also is participating, seeking involvement from consumers through its Web site (spiritofawoman.com).

Sponsorship costs range from $10,000 to $50,000 per market, which is higher than many mall marketing opportunities, but Mr. Marinoff said the event gets very high traffic and is structured to route consumers through each zone with built-in opportunities to measure their participation.

LIMITED OPPORTUNITY

Only malls with 50,000 to 75,000 visitors per day, operated by either Simon Property Group or General Growth Properties, are participating in the tour.

The event also is designed to balance national and local marketer participation, so local hospitals and community organizations can take part.

"We're keeping sponsor clutter to a minimum and making sure that any additional sponsors add to the experience rather than simply tag along," Mr. Marinoff said. "We believe that if we stay focused on giving the consumer a great experience, sponsor results will follow."

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