Rethinking Retail: Aloyd Fitness finds success in humorous ads

There’s not much too subtle about a photo of a guy wearing a thong peeking out from under his gym pants as he’s resting between sets in the gym. See how one retailer is cashing in on funny ads that "get in your head."

There’s not much too subtle about a photo of a guy wearing a thong peeking out from under his gym pants as he’s resting between sets in the gym. Of course, there’s also not much too subtle about the slogan that goes with the photo, “Life’s short. Be sexy for it.”

And, yes, when that very photo is on the back of buses all over Vancouver Island in British Columbia, it gets attention.

It’s just the kind of attention the owner of Aloyd Fitness ( wants. Although 19 years ago when he started his business, his advertising may have been a tad more subtle, Lloyd Richards (who, by the way, is the thong model) has always believed you need to get people to notice you -- and then they remember your business. 

“Advertising has to get in your head,” Richards said. “It’s got to get noticed. It’s the best way to advertise, with some kind of humor.”

The humor part comes naturally to Richards, who admitted he was the class clown (and worse) as a kid growing up in the area.

“I was always known as a nut bar in high school,” he said.

When he opened his own retail business, he knew his ads and any marketing needed to go beyond the tried-and-stale ads of many businesses, including fitness retail, that emphasizes the brands they carry or a current sale. He watched Super Bowl Sunday ads and saw what people paid attention to. “Even when somebody says, ‘That’s stupid’ about an ad, I’d say, ‘No, you remember it, don’t you?’” Nobody ever remembers the serious ads, he concluded.

“Advertising is not all about deals and prices,” he said. “It’s about who you are. Brand recognition.”

As a self-study in advertising, he said he realizes, however, that measuring the result of advertising is difficult at best. So he takes things into his own hands.

“I’ve tried all sorts of things and it’s hard to gauge advertising, so we ask every single customer who comes in the door how they heard about us,” he explained. On average, he said about two-thirds to three-quarters say they heard of the business and therefore came in because of an ad they saw. And you can never stop, he learned. After already being in the area for nearly two decades with his three stores, he said a customer came in recently because of his “thong” ad and said, “I had no idea you were here.” Bingo. Results once again. And not from a huge investment: Richards said he spends from about 3 percent to 5 percent of his annual revenues each year on advertising.

Some of his TV ads are also up on YouTube. One done 18 months ago (and still running off and on) remains the most popular. It features a thin elderly man flexing in an ad Richards calls “gun show.” Click here to see that. For it, he advertised for an older male actor who was willing to take off his shirt. Turns out he got two-for-one: the woman in the ad is actually the man’s wife.

Speaking of wives, Richard’s wife is instrumental in development, too. She came up with the “Life is short” slogan that he’s been using for four years…and that thong? Yeah, he stole it from her underwear drawer when he was on his way to the photo shoot. (Not sure she could fit into it again after he wore it and we haven’t heard about her reaction.) When he arrived at the shoot and told the photographers what he wanted, they thought he was nuts. “Work should be fun!” he said.

Of course, despite the humorous bent, he intersperses his campaigns with more thought-provoking approaches, too. He occasionally pops something in with the slogan, “Embrace Life,” that shows the possibilities of getting into shape, usually contrasting an invigorating outdoor or family scene with a couch potato or other inactive concept.

Still, it’s the goofball ads that most end up remembering, with the current thong ad on buses (“My mother begged me not to do it.”) catching a lot of attention. Of course, another a few years ago did, too:

“The slogan, ‘Life is short, be sexy for it,’ has been really quite interesting,” he said. “I have had church groups phone me at my house and complain that my slogan is disgusting, and I should be ashamed of myself. To me, that means it worked. It got noticed. 

“I really pushed it a few years ago on an ad where I had a busty girl in a bikini. I took a picture of her from the shoulders to the belly button only. She is holding a pair of dumbbells in front of her, so all you see are arms, bust and dumbbells. The caption read, ‘Grab a pair of these at Aloyd Fitness,’ referring to the dumbbells. But you know what most people thought. Well, once again. It got noticed!”

His new slogan is, “Go from big gut to nice butt with Aloyd Fitness,” and will appear for the first time in an ad in February 2010 in a more upscale Vancouver Island home and living magazine.

“I don’t think people put the time and effort into advertising that they should,” he said. “You should never stop.”

--Therese Iknoian

Want more? In this ad (click here), Richards taps into insider humor on Vancouver Island using another local business personality and his ad schpiel for the joke. In another (click here), he pokes fun at a “walrus workout.”