April 21, 2024

The Fitness Revolution Will Be Televised (After Leno)

IT’S 3 a.m., and Tony Horton is talking to you, couch potato.

“Get absolutely ripped in 90 days!”

Viewer, check out those abs, those pecs, those glutes.

“Guaranteed or your money back!”

This man is 52 years old — and probably buffer than you’ll ever be.

“All for three easy payments of $39.95!”

On televisions across America, Tony Horton is selling a burning-sweat vision of physical fitness, and these days, a lot of people are buying. He is the pitchman and wise-cracking star of a brutal, make-it-stop workout called P90X, and he has won converts from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. The singer Sheryl Crow, the sportscaster Erin Andrews, the former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, Representative Paul Ryan and a dozen or more of his Congressional colleagues, and the list goes on and on.

P90X fans swear by the workout, a mix of jumping, yoga, martial arts and strength training that, in fact, isn’t all that revolutionary. But the secret of P90X’s success is the marketing: Mr. Horton and his business partners say they have built a $400-million-a-year empire on what, to many, might seem like a foundation of schlock: TV infomercials.

But wait, there’s more: through these infomercials, P90X has grown into a major player in exercise DVDs, one of the few growth spots in an otherwise shrinking DVD market. Beachbody, the Santa Monica company behind P90X, has expanded into workout DVDs and infomercials tailored to particular audiences. Its Body Gospel, for instance, is aimed at Christians. There is also Tony the Folks for seniors and TurboFire for women. On top of that is a range of supplements and fitness gear.

Mr. Horton may be the face (and biceps) of P90X, but the man behind the curtain is Carl Daikeler, who has been plying the infomercial trade since the 1980s. His first production was for an industry that isn’t exactly known for its quads: accounting. Later, he produced infomercials for all kinds of pitches, be they dating services or eight-minute abdominal workouts.

His breakout idea was to create a workout program that was so hard that he dared TV viewers to try it. In 2002, he and his business partner, Jon Congdon, took that pitch to Mr. Horton, who had starred in an exercise video called Power 90. The result, released in 2005, was P90X — X for “extreme.”

The early P90X infomercials bombed. But that changed when, at Mr. Daikeler’s urging, customers like “Dallas C.” and “Kristy M.” began sending in before-and-after pictures, now featured on the company’s infomercials and Web site. More than three million copies have been sold since then, with sales increasing every year through 2010 (they are currently running even with last year), company officials said.

Now Mr. Daikeler, 47, wants to more than double his annual sales to $1 billion. To do so, he will have to move beyond the buff clientele who have embraced P90X to an even bigger market: Americans who are overweight or nowhere near as fit as they need to be to keep up with P90X.

That, of course, is a goal that has eluded fitness gurus — not to mention public health officials — for years.

“Whoever succeeds at making the living room an effective place to get fit is going to be a billionaire,” Mr. Daikeler says.

INFOMERCIALS have been around almost as long as TV. But the genre really took off in the 1970s and ’80s, with such wonders as the Ginsu, the kitchen knife that was shown samurai-ing its way through soda cans and leather shoes.

Health and fitness have long been goldmines in this field. Richard Simmons sweated to the oldies. Suzanne Somers extolled the virtues of the ThighMaster. And Jack LaLanne urged viewers to “unlock the power of fresh-squeezed juice” with the Power Juicer.

But P90X has achieved blockbuster status with a new approach. Its infomercials are shot in a more documentary style. They feature testimonials from P90X converts, interviews with Mr. Horton and scenes from the workouts. Old infomercial lines like “How much would you pay for all this?” are not part of the pitch.

Still, P90X is walking a well-trodden path. At-home workout videos took off in 1982, with Jane Fonda introducing aerobics to millions. In the years since, celebrities, models and personal trainers have crowded in. Claudia Schiffer has her “Perfectly Fit Buns.” George Foreman wants you to “Walk It Off With George.” Zsa Zsa Gabor tells her customers, “It’s Simple, Darling.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/business/29exercise.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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