We don’t want to show idealistic body types and extremely ripped, fit people in our ads: Naresh Krishnaswamy of Cult.fit
We are confident that in a couple of days, it would be up and running again: Naresh Krishnaswamy of Cult.fit on bringing back ‘Jaa Simran Jaa’ ad that taken down for copyright violation
We want Cult.fit to be completely synonymous with fitness, said Naresh Krishnaswamy

We don’t want to show idealistic body types and extremely ripped, fit people in our ads: Naresh Krishnaswamy of Cult.fit

We want Cult.fit to be completely synonymous with fitness, said Naresh Krishnaswamy
  • Health, immunity and fitness have become one of the top concerns for Indian consumers post COVID-19.
  • Healthtech platform Cult.fit has had a pretty busy year so far. It acquired three platforms, revamped its business model and brand identity, closed another funding round, and has recently launched a new campaign to target India’s youth.
  • Naresh Krishnaswamy, Growth & Marketing Head, Cult.fit speaks to us about the platform's growth trajectory, idea behind its latest campaign and goals for 2021.
What is that image that comes to your mind anytime someone says ‘fitness’? Do you see a petite woman with flawless skin, voluminous hair, a perfect smile posing with a small piece of gym equipment or a muscular man pumping ridiculously heavy weights? If the answer is yes, it is not your fault. Our definition of fitness is formed by the unidimensional communication we have grown up seeing.

When it comes to fitness, all brands have tried to sell an ideal, unreal body image to their customers. They hire obscenely thin women who are further skewed to look even more ‘appetizingly perfect’ or muscular men who are photoshopped with 6 packs. Just in one Google image search of the word ‘fitness,’ you would notice a pattern of photoshopped images and how flawed the overall communication in the fitness industry is.

The imagery we have seen in fitness advertisements, whether on billboards, TV or social media, have created a perception that has made us feel under confident in our own bodies. And people who don’t meet these idealistic body standards, feel intimidated to join a gym.

Healthtech brand Cult.fit has been consciously trying to move away from this, reminding its audience that fitness is for everyone and people should exercise to feel good, stronger, and happier.

Cure.fit’s latest campaign ‘Fitness is not an option’ imitates iconic Bollywood scenes to show how they would play out if the actors weren’t fit. It reenacts famous running scenes from Bollywood like ‘The Train’ scene from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and ‘The Bull’ scene from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara but there’s a twist in the plot; the actors start panting and wheezing instead, reiterating the message that fitness is not an option anymore but an absolute necessity. Everyone should take fitness more seriously. While it has been appreciated on social media for its creativity, sense of humor and great execution, there’s another reason why it stands out. It doesn’t sell an idealistic body image to its target audience.

Naresh Krishnaswamy, Growth and Marketing Head, Cult.fit told us the genesis of the campaign. He said, “First, the idea was to go at a higher level and attack the barriers of the industry. Typically, you see a lot of fitness communication around building up muscles and looking more attractive, desirable and pumping weights, etc. We, with our communication, now and in the future, want to really drive this whole thought of fitness being really essential to life, something that you can no longer ignore and it is for everybody. Fitness can be anything from running, that you see in one of the ads, to working out in the gym or home, etc. So, the objective was to pivot communication to drive fitness as a lifestyle habit as opposed to what’s been traditionally talked about -- weight loss, muscle gain, etc. Secondly, we have significantly expanded our fitness offerings and we wanted to show Cult as a wide fitness option.”

The core insight ‘fitness is not an option’ was brainstormed and finalised internally, further woven into scripts by freelancers and finally produced by Supari Studios. The first TVC in the campaign has gone live on Cult.fit’s owned media channel, across all Sony TV channels and OTT platforms including SonyLiv. It was played during India vs England test matches and will extend into the IPL season which is set to resume on September 19.

Unfortunately, Cult.fit’s first advertisement ‘Jaa Simran Jaa’ recently hit a minor roadblock. It has been taken down from YouTube after Yash Raj Films flagged it for violating copyright protocol. However, it is already back on Instagram.

Krishnaswamy said that Cult.fit’s legal team is working to bring the film back. “We did our due diligence before launching that ad and we think it is completely in the clear. We are sorting a few things out and are confident that in a couple of days, it will be back up and running again.”

‘Fitness is not an option’ is Cult.fit’s first campaign after its brand revamp. In May 2021, Cure.fit was renamed to Cult.fit. Even before the revamp exercise, Cult.fit had tried to stay on top of social media trends. Now, with its latest campaign, it is trying to be an active part of pop culture.

Telling us about Cult.fit’s marketing approach since its inception, Krishnaswamy said, “Right from when we started out in 2016, our objective has been to make fitness fun and relatable for individuals. If you look at our communication before the pandemic, our focus predominantly was to show people enjoying working out in a group with a smile on their faces. So no idealistic body types and showing extremely ripped, fit people. That’s been our ideology throughout. We now want to play a much larger category game and want Cult to be really associated with fitness. Our association before the revamp was with group classes, which is what we were offering before the pandemic, but now we offer every type of fitness. So, the evolution from there to today has been about the brand taking more of a humorous, quirky approach across channels. Before that, we were a little more functional -- a brand trying to tell you the benefits of working out. Now we are taking a lifestyle approach.”

Goals for 2021

Health, immunity and fitness have become one of the top concerns for Indian consumers post COVID-19. After gyms shut down in 2020, fitness apps and on-ground gyms rose to the occasion by shifting their focus online and providing personalised services based on different body types. With this, the Indian healthtech space saw a surge in user traffic and became a part of the new normal.

According to Valuates Report, the Global Fitness App Market size is expected to grow from $3,312.58 Million in 2019 to $13,016.77 million by the end of 2025 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 25.61%.

Cult.fit has also had a pretty buzzing year. It acquired healthtech platform Fitternity, hardware-at-home platform Tread and partnered with Disney+ Hotstar, Sarva and Brilliant Wellness.

Commenting on the first half of the year and focus areas for the rest of it, Krishnaswamy said, “We have been very active this year. We have done 3 acquisitions, completed another fundraising round recently, we have pivoted into digital and gyms, the next six months is heads-down growth. We will continue to remain opportunistic with any acquisitions or any other inorganic opportunities to grow. But we have all the tools we need in our arsenal. So, the next six months would be about execution and campaign activity.”

After the pandemic, Cult.fit added 2 million users and out of these 1.5 million, 1 million users joined the platform during the lockdown in April and May. However, this number slowly tapered off as it moved to a paid subscription model. Today, it has 1,50,000 paid members on its content product and with gyms coming back, 100,000 people work out in Cult.fit gyms every day.

As per its regulatory filings, its operating revenue shot up 174% to Rs 496 crore during FY20 from Rs 181 crore earned in FY19.

“About 50% of our gym members are back. Our revenue and MAUs are on a steep upgrowing trend now, with people using our gyms and online product and we only see ourselves continuously growing month-on-month as vaccination rates increase, and we add more supplies in our gyms and consumer sentiment picks up. We foresee that over the next few months, we should get back to pre-pandemic levels of general attendance and member activity,” shared Krishnaswamy.

To accelerate the vaccination process in our country, Cult.fit is also offering free vaccination to its members and one of their family members.

It would be focusing on improving its online group classes, upping gym safety, polish its hybrid model and consolidate local gyms under its network.

Sharing the company’s vision, Krishnaswamy said, “We want Cult.fit to be completely synonymous with fitness. When you think fitness, you should only think of Cult. The second objective is that we want to be an iconic, youthful brand. We want people to really love Cult. We want to speak to them in a language that inspires them to get fit and not be in the annoyingly motivational zone, which a lot of fitness brands are. We want to be in the top league of fitness brands in India that really lead and define the category.”