21 May 2020

How COVID-19 is affecting health and fitness advertising

Being trapped indoors right as the weather warms up hasn’t been great for the Western world. People have been forced to change the way they eat and avoid going to restaurants and the gym, and health advisories around social distancing while exercising outdoors makes responsible running and cycling more difficult. But with a sudden increase in free time for many consumers, many have decided to try and address their long-standing health, wellness, and fitness resolutions.

Addressing wellness is a big concern

For many, addressing the mental and emotional side effects of lockdown has become a major priority. In the US and Canada, people have chosen to focus on emotional wellness first and foremost, where interest in related topics has increased by 64% and 81%, respectively. Physical wellness has taken a greater priority in the UK, with a 16% increase.


Interest in physical fitness has increased significantly as well, though the magnitude of this increase seems to be directly tied to the severity of restrictions imposed in different countries. Online activity across online fitness-related domains suggests that the UK and Singapore have seen the largest increases as people try to make the most out of lockdowns, while increased interest in the US and Canada has been comparatively smaller.

Change in fitness content consumption by country

People are looking for ways to work out at home

With no gym to turn to, interest in staying fit at home is on the rise. This means an increase in bodyweight workouts and activities that can be done in the living room. Though there are some regional disparities driven by the nature of the lockdowns (in some areas people are permitted to go outside and exercise), generally interest around outdoor aerobic fitness training has also increased, particularly as it relates to power runs, jogging, sprints, and cycling. In the US, anxiety around public transport and warming weather has led to a flood of new demand for bicycles similar to what we saw for gaming consoles several weeks ago, leading to retailers running out of inventory and struggling to restock. 


Workout interests also vary by age and gender. People under 24 and between the ages of 45 and 64 are the most likely to have taken an interest in indoor workouts, while adults between the ages of 25 and 34 have been more likely to show interest in outdoor workouts.

Preference for Indoor Vs Outdoor activities, by age groups

Interest in nutrition has also increased

Regular exercise is just one part of the fitness puzzle. Proper nutrition is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and as people are forced to cook more meals, they’ve taken a greater interest in how to stay healthy and eat better. Interest in content around home cooking has also skyrocketed, reaching levels along the lines of those that we typically see around the Christmas holiday, though the focus of those searches is different, with less of an emphasis on large meals and a greater emphasis on healthy cooking and one-pot meals.


There is also a significant segment of home chefs looking to invest more time into their cooking skills and experiment with new baking and barbecue techniques.

PERCENTAGE CHANGE by cooking categories (3)

Growing demand for fitness accessories

With a growing interest around personal fitness activities online, fitness accessories like shoes, sportswear, and fitness equipment are among the very few non-essential items on which consumer spending is strongly positive. The UK has seen the biggest increase in demand for fitness accessories, especially equipment like wearables and home gym equipment like mats, weights, pull up rods and machines like treadmills and cross-trainers.


Exercising with a partner

Walking a dog makes for good exercise as well as an excuse to be outside (albeit wearing proper PPE like a mask and gloves). As people settled in for social distancing and lockdown measures, pet adoption rates surged globally, with many animal shelters finding themselves suddenly empty. Most of these consumers will continue to be pet owners long after social distancing efforts have slowed or ceased, with their purchase behavior permanently altered.

Change in online interest ACROSS PET ADOPTION (1)

Mapping interest in fitness activity across other platforms

TV fitness programming

Although the number of shows that focus on fitness training has decreased since social distancing measures were put into place, time spent watching that content has increased significantly - by 32% on traditional linear TV and 42% on OTT. The number of people watching has also increased on OTT. About 80% of these shows in the US involve yoga and/or meditation.


Youtube home workouts

We’ve seen an increase in video views for fitness content around high-intensity interval training (HITT), Zumba, and other fitness-related activities, with some of the largest increases occurring in the last two weeks of April.

YouTube fitness video views by day (1)

Fitness apps

Fitness apps and channels have rushed to fill the void left by gym closures in the hopes of capturing new customers who will stick around post-COVID-19. Nike training club, Core Power Yoga, Rumble, Daily Burn, and Barre3 are some of the many applications that are encouraging people to work out during quarantine. Nike Training Club has waived their typical monthly fees for premium memberships, while Core Power Yoga (the largest yoga studio in the United States) has opened its doors to the world by offering free access.


Fitness sentiment on social media

Most sentiment around fitness has been positive during lockdown. Most social posts see their authors focused on staying fit and losing weight, especially in the UK. Keto and other healthy diets are major points of interest, and most posters are interested in sports, workouts, and yoga. Zumba and dance fitness interests are also increasing.


Gym memberships are falling

With the lockdown in place, major gyms are seeing a decrease in their membership. Daily passes have seen a huge decline, and monthly passes have also decreased. Annual memberships have seen the largest declines.

Change in gym membershipS pre and post covid-19 (1)

Shifting strategies

We can broadly think of there being two kinds of activities that social distancing and lockdown efforts have stopped: those that consumers will be happy to resume, and those that consumers will leave by the wayside, having changed their lifestyles on a more permanent basis. While many consumers may just find they no longer have the time to exercise after returning to work, for many the habits they’ve built during this time will remain, leading to more fitness-minded purchases and schedules.

For advertisers, understanding these trends and how consumers have adapted will be key to understanding their behavior in the future, and how to market to them effectively. Reaching the new pet owners and fitness buffs of the world presents interesting new challenges and opportunities for advertisers, and only those equipped with the right data will be able to seize upon them.

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