Ab Exerciser Flexes Its FDA Approval

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Ab Exerciser Flexes Its FDA Approval


By Mickey Alam Khan


Slendertone is citing the Food and Drug Administration's approval in direct response television commercials as it introduces an abdominal training system in a U.S. market highly skeptical of such products.


The German manufacturer is using national cable buys to push the $150 Slendertone Flex abs belt, which produces muscular contractions by stimulating nerves controlling the muscles. It earmarked $10 million for the DRTV effort by Encino, CA, agency Inter/Media Advertising.


"I think the key of this product is that it's more expensive, but it works, too," said Robert Yallen, president of Inter/Media. "There were a lot of abs products over a year ago that were forced off by both the FDA and the [Federal Trade Commission]. But this is the only abs product, to my knowledge, that has been approved by the FDA. I think that's key."


The government approval for retail sales is necessary if Slendertone wants credibility. It has applied for six patents to ensure that its product is not confused with the $20 belts that only burnt customers, not the fat around their waist.


A series of 60- and 120-second spots are airing, calling viewers to dial the toll-free number or visit stores. The day-part media buy includes cable networks like Animal Planet, Court TV, DirecTV, Soap Channel, Fox News, CNN and its Headline News sibling, and Lifetime.


Complex Technologies markets the belt in the United States and continental Europe.


In cases such as the Slendertone belt, the most common practice is for marketers to take out long-form infomercials. But Inter/Media, which has worked on TV campaigns for NordicTrak and K-Tel, suggested otherwise.


"When we look for creative branding, we have a bias toward short form, because short form is going to create much more market awareness through reach and frequency," Yallen said.


"Because of the nature of long form, with the expense of the spots and the cost-per-thousand associated therewith, your reach and frequency to the target is much smaller than the same amount spent on short form," he said.


Yallen said the media plan is "based on our past results for similar demographics. Number two, it's based on the propensity of people who use exercise products to view these networks [according to MRI data]."


Men and women ages 25-54 are targeted in this campaign, which has no firm end date. There is a slight tilt toward women who are exercise enthusiasts.


The spots promote individual belt models for men and women. Besides highlighting the FDA approval, creative execution comprises demonstrations and testimonials from enthusiasts. The technology is touted, too.


Slendertone's Flex belt is born of technology that claims to make muscles work harder through strong yet comfortable contractions.


According to the company, the belt stimulates all abs muscles, not just those under the belt. Users fasten the belt around their waist, press the button and the exercise starts. The belt's built-in memory and control system automatically increase exercise levels through the programs.


The belt will be available at mass merchandisers. The company is still working on other retailers for placement. The product already is available in retail stores across Germany, France, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Britain and the Netherlands.


"Another reason for the campaign," Yallen said, "is that it helps force the retail distribution."


Consumers can buy the product in two, three or four installments or a lump-sum payment.


Still, Slendertone has its work cut out. First, abs products have earned media notoriety in the past for being unsafe or not working. Next, competitors may enter the market with a similar product.


Also, the spots not only have to create sell-through via direct response, but also raise brand awareness for retail sales. Slendertone may not necessarily make money on direct response because of the price point. Yet it has to build traffic for the retail market.


"I think what's unique is that there's so much bad consumer press regarding the category as well as some of the current exercise-equipment advertisers that it's going to make it somewhat challenging to convince the consumers that this product does work," Yallen said. "That's the biggest challenge that we have."


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