Fat is a big issue and grows more powerful every time the average American lets out another notch in their belt. Since most people are overfat or are worried about being or becoming too fat, the issue is full of marketing possibilities and pitfalls. This was made clear, again, when 24 Hour Fitness launched its new advertising campaign last month.

In case you were on another planet in mid-February when protesters had their say on national TV and the wire services carried the news for several days, here’s the nutshell: 24 Hour Fitness introduced a billboard campaign showing an alien creature stalking the earth, with the warning, “When they come, they will eat the fat ones first.” In San Francisco, fat-advocate protesters picketed the club with some counter-insulting signs. The “Honk If You’re Fat” poster added noticeably to the downtown traffic noise according to an Associated Press report. The few members of the club who were interviewed didn’t have much good to say about the ad campaign, and one even joined the protesters for a while.

Not to miss an opportunity, competitor World Gym ran a sidewalk aerobics class with some large participants at the protest. As of a couple of hours before this writing, our local ABC TV news affiliate in San Diego said that 24 Hour Fitness is not going to take down the billboard; it’s just the opening piece in a “funny” sci-fi-themed ad campaign. Presumably, the campaign could roll out to the chain’s 284 clubs in the western states and overseas. From a cold-blooded adman’s perspective the free publicity has been worth more than the billboards.

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