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Consumer Research


Fitter for Purpose

Fitter for Purpose

Latest from OMD Sense

“I sometimes say to people that the best solution for anti social behaviour in young people is sport. The best health policy for people is sport, and the best way of teaching them interpersonal skills, as we call it today, is sport!” Tony Blair, 2007

Sport has always been popular in Britain. Increased government funding, a more health-conscious society and the forthcoming 2012 Olympic Games ensure that pivotal role will continue in early 21st Century Britain.

However, whilst Brits are famed for being passionate spectators, the public health challenge is to convert interest and passion into greater participation.

According to Sport England, over 50% of the population is now classified as overweight or clinically obese, with obesity levels alone having quadrupled in the last 25 years. The government interest and the concerns of the medical establishment are also echoed in pop culture.

Physical fitness, possessed by a minority, is now identified with sexual desirability: we say someone’s “fit,” not “attractive.” There is now an unprecedented official drive to reverse the effects of Britain’s sedentary lifestyles and make us all fit.

We’re calling this trend Fitter for Purpose.


Ten years ago, the best English footballers included the likes of Alan Shearer, Paul Scholes and Tony Adams. They were idolised strictly within the field of football throughout their sporting careers. Now, 49% of the population habitually watch sports on television, but this increases significantly during a (major?) sporting event (TGI).

However, today’s stars including David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, are viewed as pop culture heroes. This has happened very rarely in the past, most famously with George Best, but players now are becoming world-recognised brands, spilling out of the arena where they made their name.

David Beckham has his own fragrance, sells sunglasses and cola and was, at the peak of his career, a leading fashion icon. Forbes magazine reported that he was a significant factor in the increase of Real Madrid’s merchandise sales, yet his performance on the pitch is summarised by the fact that his substituted replacement, in his final start for the club, set up two goals that won them the prestigious La Liga title.

Ten years ago, it was accomplishment on the field that raised shirt sales. Nowadays, the private lives of footballers are considered headline news and related entertainment and fashion brands and properties, such as Posh Spice, Footballers Wives and Colleen McLoughlin, are also successful.

Current situation

Yet despite sport’s unprecedented prominence in culture, Mintel reports a mere 45% of the population spend more than an hour exercising a week, somewhat less than the recommended minimum of 30 minutes a day. Reasons for the shortfall are different for each sex: men claim not to have time, non-participating women blame a lack of motivation.

For the present generation of school children, whose time and motivation are subject to a curriculum, official emphasis on sport and fitness has never been greater. The government target is for 85% of school children to participate in sport and exercise for 2 hours a week by 2008.

This coincides with rulings on HFSS (high fat, salt and sugar) content in food and Tony Blair’s stated premise for winning the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games, for young people. All are indications that for this generation, sport will be an even greater part of their lives.

Infrastructure and innovation

Low levels of adult participation have begun to increase slowly, helped by innovation. The last decade has seen 18% growth in the number of private health clubs. According to Mintel research, 11% of adults use such facilities, with a further 18% claiming to use council/public complexes, reflecting the greater ease of pay-as-you-go fitness. 

New technologies make access to sports and fitness easier. Having acknowledged that better facilities aid participation, the government has invested £4bn since 1997 to renovate and build facilities. Health clubs install TV screens on equipment to minimise the tedium of repetitive exercises such as treadmill-running. They also develop ever more classes to add enjoyable participation to what can sometimes be dull, non-sporting exercise.

Improved infrastructure and inducements are the kinds of initiative that build participation, further facilitating the government’s achievement of its objective .

Opportunity and Conclusion

To capitalise on the government’s free PR and deepening funding could make considerable sense for diverse brands and targets.

The over-fifties hold approximately two-thirds of the country’s disposable income, which can be diverted into audience-specific products and services using sophisticated studies such as OMD’s UFO. Brand-sponsored programmes such as Nike’s Run London could be imitated for specific needs (low-impact, aerobic exercise) and preferences, and by brands from outside the sports/fitness category.

Elsewhere, in July, the National Sleep Foundation recently discovered that 70% of British women suffer some form of insomnia. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, at the same time, has found that  80% of women do too little exercise. Insomnia makes the sufferer much more susceptible to obesity and diabetes. It is also extremely disruptive to quality of life, with the NSF study finding that one in twelve respondents missed one day of work a month due to tiredness.

It’s not surprising that some commentators regard insomnia in women as an unreported epidemic. Furthermore, according to research published in the British Medical Journal, pharmacological treatment is not effective. The answer to this massive problem? Primary care-givers (GPs et al) prescribe exercise.

The obsession with sport and fitness is breaking down traditional boundaries and due to governmental support, having a wider impact on society.

This trend will only increase in coming years, and problems of motivation and time will be addressed by consumer-led brands who take the lead and join the dots for different consumers with different needs, enabling them to become fitter, healthier, happier and longer-lived.

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