• Transform magazine
  • March 29, 2020


Opinion: The race is on in the sports nutrition sector

Pete Hayes.png

Brands succeed in the competitive sports nutrition sector by emulating the same positive ideals as their customers. Yet, says Pete Hayes, there’s a lot to be done before brands recognise that relevance and clarity will reach consumers more effectively than traditional fitness tropes

The world of fitness is changing beyond all recognition and in ways that have significant implications for brands. Today, the race is on for brand managers to respond to shifting attitudes towards exercise and body image, as strong and healthy usurps skinny.

These days, fitness is a lifestyle choice on which people are ready to spend money. Yet, while some sportswear and fitness brands have put themselves front and centre of these developments, many nutrition brands remain generic or on the periphery.

Brand managers need to take note. The democratisation of sport has opened an untapped market of people for whom being active is not an add-on, but a way of life. These consumers are less focused on body image and more interested in the health and social benefits.

Take Nike, or the fitness app Strava, which has achieved cult status. Not only are these brands aligned with this new type of customer, they’ve embedded themselves into customers’ lives with a vision of sport that is aspirational yet accessible.

Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign championed everyday athletes on billboards across London during the 2012 Olympics. Strava’s recent Athletes Unfiltered campaign celebrates imperfection in the pursuit of sport by sharing the raw, uncurated images of, for example, goggle marks, weird tan lines and the grease marks from bicycle chains.

You don’t have to be a professional sportsperson to invest in sport, these campaigns tell customers. Their tone of voice, the social media element and the employment of everyday people rather than models create a world in which the consumer feels comfortable.

This world is not generic. Aspiration is there, of course, but there is a tipping point beyond which aspirational design becomes clichéd and sanitised, and it’s one that those in the sports nutrition market should be aware of. The holy grail of design is curated but uncurated. Nike, Strava and the like have worked hard on forging relationships with their customers so that that they are synonymous with their active lifestyles.

So how to emulate those successes? Lifeplus’s ‘Be’ range is a classic example of a sports supplement that knows its customers and how to speak to them. Far from alienating the amateur, the colour coding and the direct labelling system of the products simplified the world of sports nutrition and made ‘Be’ seem suitable for anyone who considers themselves active.

The packaging concentrated on what its contents did – Be Focused, Be Sustained and Be Recharged for pre-, during and post-workout support. It moved away from the extremes of the muscle man and serial dieter towards the middle of the road through clarity and approachability. So how to build on this more relevant approach?

Sports nutrition brands could directly target specific activities, or zone in on different need states. A running supplement ‘for that 40-minute low’, a cycling bar ‘for time trials’ or a yoga shake ‘for muscle recovery’ would speak to customers through their personal sporting experience.

A sports supplement range that supports the lifestyle adjustments of different generations could be game-changing, too. And that’s just the beginning. Going forward, we can expect to see the results of research into genetic profiling and its bearing on nutrition enter the mainstream, with all the attendant implications for sports supplements and marketing possibilities.

For the time being, though, sports supplement brand managers should be looking to move their products to the heart of people’s daily lives from where, historically, they have been seen as a ‘bolt-on.’

Pete Hayes is co-founder and director of London-based design agency, PB Creative

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