The season where people commit to building new, improved versions of themselves is especially relevant to companies such as Rizap Group. Still relatively unknown internationally, the outfit has seen phenomenal growth in Japan in recent years by helping people transform according to their goals—from rotund to svelte, from scrawny to rugged.
Since its launch in 2014, Rizap’s revenue has grown almost 400%, and by 170% in the past year. The company forecasts its operating income for FY3/18 at 13 billion yen (US$117 million) and revenue at 150 billion yen ($1.3 billion). The figures are up from 1.1 billion yen ($9.9 million) and 23.9 billion yen $207.4 million), respectively, in 2014.
From a brand perspective, Rizap’s route from startup to household name has been equally impressive. According to group marketing head Yohei Matsuoka, who joined the company last June from SmartNews, a recent poll showed 90% consumer awareness of the Rizap name. That has been driven by a straightforward but extremely effective ongoing advertising campaign, the most recent installment of which features the Kabuki actor Ichikawa Kudanji.
The work is not devastatingly creative by any means, but it is instantly recognisable and memorable. Rizap has effectively taken the ‘before’ and ‘after’ promise used by (often dubious) companies in the health and wellness space the world over and somehow made it credible. In a typical spot, a dejected-looking woman sags in worn out gym shorts; even the music sounds flabby. Suddenly, an up-tempo jingle introduces the woman’s new toned, tanned bikini-clad self, radiating optimism and self-confidence.
Corny as it sounds, it works because it’s amusing, because most people, if they are honest, want to believe in the possibility of reinvention, and most importantly because Rizap itself appears to work. “Our core value is guaranteed results,” says Matsuoka.
At around 350,000 yen (US$3,100), the fitness program is a considerable investment for the average consumer. A rigorous, tailored, one-to-one training program is backed up by a 30-day money-back guarantee, rebound insurance and the option of ongoing after-support to prevent a relapse. The company has faced controversy: in 2015, a consumer group criticised the money-back policy as too subjective. But Matsuoka says so far around 94,000 people have used the service.
It’s a strong start, but at a group level Rizap has much to do to communicate its proposition, Matsuoka says. The current level of awareness is entirely focused on Rizap’s basic fitness, and specifically weight loss, services. But the company wants to be known as a holistic self-improvement partner that can help people achieve results in a short space of time. Taking the time to understand what an individual ultimately wants to achieve—it could be to lose weight, but it could equally be to become better at a sport, or attract a partner—is key, Matsuoka says. However, little is currently being done to convey that.
Relatively few people know that Rizap Group is also a purveyor of golf, English and cookery classes, or that it owns Jeans Mate, a mass-market casualwear retailer that it bought last year with a view to offering an outfitting service to slimmed-down customers. It also recently launched a program aimed solely at women who want to get in shape but may not be looking to lose a lot of weight, and began targeting the corporate world with health consultations for company employees. “Our target is all people who want to change,” explains Matsuoka.
He is clear that one of Rizap’s own priorities in 2018 will be changing consumer perception of the brand from one that is all about weight loss to health. He says the approach will be two-fold: on the one hand, it will involve a new advertising direction, and on the other, more health-focused programs in conjunction with local authorities. A goal of Takeshi Seto, Rizap Group’s 39-year old founder and president, is ostensibly to make 10 million people healthy by 2020.
Matsuoka says other priorities will be a more joined-up marketing strategy that connects different parts of the business; finding a way to reproduce Rizap’s training support digitally; forging more collaborations, such as one the company has with FamilyMart around low-carb convenience store food, and a similar one with Pizza Hut that offers “relief for pizza lovers” who are following one of Rizap’s programs; and starting on the road to “going global”.
Rizap has 121 studios in Japan and five overseas, in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Asia will remain the focus for international expansion efforts for now, as Matsuoka admits competing in the US would be challenging given that many comparable services already exist. He sees growing health awareness in China as a major opportunity, but notes that Rizap’s trademark advertising has been less effective there.
“We need to find an effective style, a way of spreading our brand at the grassroots level,” he says. “We need to find a way to go global at a rapid pace.” That might involve tie-ups with local celebrities. But he thinks deliberately targeting inbound travellers to Japan could also work. A number of tourists signed up at home after seeing the ads in Japan, he noted. Understanding consumer motivations, which may be different to those in Japan, will be important.
Commenting on the brand as an outside observer, Jon Hamm, worldwide chief creative officer at Geometry Global, advises Rizap to be especially clear about communicating the problems it aims to solve for people. “I think that brands in general often get lost in talking about what they are and what they stand for and don’t go back to what it means for the person who is supposed to buy into it,” he says. “If a brand like this can understand the problem, the benefit [it offers] and what it needs to do to unpack that from a behavioural point of view, I think they would be in a really interesting place.”
At a time when people are arguably more self-obsessed than ever, Rizap looks in good shape. The key will be to keep the message simple, and above all, deliver on promises.