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Lessons from a cultural phenomenon

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I’ve avoided it for some time. I’ve heard a lot about it, mostly through friends and colleagues but I wasn’t convinced. The man’s too good looking and I just couldn’t relate to him. Then I happened upon a few news articles and finally the message started to sink in. So I did it. More through curiosity rather than a desperate need to get lean. I bought the book and started cooking the recipes. I’m getting there with the HIIT. Have you guessed yet? Yes, of course, I’m talking about ‘Lean in 15’ – the fitness phenomenon invented by Joe Wicks. And it’s truly that. Millions of fans across multiple social media platforms, 135k paying customers on 90 day shape plans, a Channel 4 series, a host of collaborations with national print brands, 50 staff driving the business and to top it off he’s just made history becoming the first non-fiction author to hold all 3 top spots in the best seller book chart shifting 62,125 copies last week. Incredible considering in 2014 he was your average personal trainer doing a bit of social media on the side.

The man’s too good looking and I just couldn’t relate to him

What struck me about The Body Coach story, from a media and communications perspective, is his use of both old and new media, the consistency of narrative and a focus on trust and credibility. Let’s break it down a bit.

Blending old and new

Social media got him noticed. In his book he talks about the hundreds of hours spent uploading videos and recipes. His fans grew organically because the content was rich and engaging. They shared it and word of mouth did the rest. It became a water cooler topic. The oldest and most effective form of marketing intertwined with the powers of new. Whilst fantastic, the book deal was the watershed moment and supercharged his popularity. Again, an ancient form of media. But one that delivers real fame because it’s in every supermarket and book shop up and down the country. But isn’t print dead? We prefer ebooks nowadays right? Well, according to Bohme, print books saw a resurgence in 2015, with sales up 3% by volume and 4% by value. So, whilst his books are breaking records he could be forgiven for taking his foot off the pedal however he’s experimenting with new interactive techniques running HIIT sessions 3 times a week in January through Facebook LIVE. This is a perfect use of the medium.


Diets don’t work. This is his mantra. To get lean you need to embrace a new lifestyle. “If you cut it all away, the plan, the books, everything, if you just do a workout in your living room and you cook your food at home, real food, that’s literally it,” It’s very simple. And that’s why it’s so successful. It just makes sense. He doesn’t deviate from this message. Train hard for a short period of time and you can eat more and treat yourself to the bad stuff every now and then. If you review the owned platforms the messages are clear and consistent combined with an energetic and friendly tone.

Trust and Credibility

To a novice diets and healthy eating can be a tricky world to navigate. We are forever being told what is good for us and what isn’t. It’s confusing and frustrating. This is one of the key insights ‘Lean in 15’ taps into. It shatters some old fashioned thinking and brings clarity and simplicity. And he does this through knowledge and demonstration. He has a degree in sports science and was an online nutrition coach for 3 years so he knows his subject well. He practices what he preaches through lots of tutorials and events (currently on a nationwide HIIT tour). He has cultivated an impressive global following through a dedication to finding a healthy balanced lifestyle rather than a quick fix. He has therefore earned trust and become a credible force.

In summary, I believe some brands can learn a lot from this cultural phenomenon. Finding the right balance between old and new media is the new conundrum for practitioners. Using them to enhance and inform each other is important in today’s fluid media ecosystem. How brands consistently reinforce their proposition and value is critical. Research suggests our attention span is narrowing (now less than a Goldfish!) for advertising messages therefore creating and associating with the right signals regularly, and in contextually relevant spaces, will ensure consideration rather than rejection. Finally, there aren’t many places for brands to hide in today’s information rich and sceptical society therefore trust and credibility are paramount. You have to tell the truth to your customers as the consequences can be fatal. Doing good and making a profit can work in harmony and there are plenty of brands, like Unilever, who are building their future based on this philosophy. So, will Lean in 15 change my lifestyle philosophy? It’s definitely too early to judge however it’s certainly changed my behaviour and that’s only one step away from developing a habit.

Matt Holliday – Head of Planning

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