I hate it when I see a big creative idea that seems to have been made small.
I put Equinox's latest "We Don't Speak January" campaign into that category.
Let me explain.
Fitness company Equinox refused to accept new members on January 1st.
This is the start of a radical idea! January tends to be the busiest time of the year for gyms because that's when well-intentioned people high on their New Year's Resolutions sign up for memberships. Of course, they typically forget their resolutions shortly thereafter, but by then they're locked into a contract and have a membership they won't use. Too bad, so sad.
And existing gym members tend not to like January very much because new members who are unfamiliar with the gym's layout and equipment tend to get in the way of more serious fitness enthusiasts who want to complete their established workout routines.
So not allowing "questionably committed" members to join on the whim of a New Year's Resolution most people don't keep feels like a pretty big idea if you want to a) communicate to potential members that you're a "serious fitness center" and that only people serious about fitness need apply for membership, and b) communicate to your existing members that you're doing your part to keep out the uncommitted riff-raff.
The idea itself had SUCH potential!
If you visited the Equinox website on January 1st, you were greeted with a bizarre headline "We Don't Speak January." The copy that followed explained how "January" represented the flaky, uncommitted, short-cut-seeking people... and that those people weren't the type of people that joined Equinox. It encouraged people to be better than "January".
Personally, I think the copy was somewhat awkward, but the idea remained really strong: come back to us some other time when you decide you're serious about fitness.
Here's where the idea fell apart: "some other time" was the next day.
The uncommitted slackers would not be allowed to join Equinox on January 1st...
...but they'd be welcomed with open arms on January 2nd.
What a great way to kill a great idea.
Do you know what makes this even worse? This year, New Year's Day fell on a Sunday.
When you think to yourself, "I'm going to start taking better care of myself starting on", what day of the week would typically complete that sentence?
That's right, Monday... when Equinox would again be open to new memberships.
I can imagine what the conversation between Equinox's brand team and agency looked like.
Agency: We have an incredible campaign idea! Let's not allow any new members for the month of January!
Brand Team: Are you out of your f*cking minds? January is our busiest month for new member sign-ups!
A: We know, but this campaign is bigger than a single month. It will position you as the place for SERIOUS fitness enthusiasts. The people who would join on January 1st aren't likely to stick with you anyway, so the opportunity costs aren't that high. The people who REALLY want to join you are going to want to join you even MORE because you would have raised the bar on"exclusivity"... they aren't going to settle for some inferior gym, and will come back in February! And it will make your existing members absolutely THRILLED with you!
B: Okay, those are good points. Let's do it... but only on January 1st. After all, when Patagonia encouraged everyone not to shop on Black Friday, they generated incredible earned media, and Black Friday is just one day. Why do we need to do this for a month?
A: It's not the same. Black Friday is a one-day event. January is a full month. One day won't have NEARLY the same impact. The idea we're pitching is "We Don't Speak January", not "We Don't Speak January 1st". Making it only one day will change this idea from a serious positioning statement into a simple stunt and...
B: We'll do it for one day. But great idea folks!
To be clear, everything you just read is completely made up. I don't know anybody at Equinox (I'm sure they're all very nice people), I don't know what agency was responsible for this campaign (I'm sure they're passionate creatives committed to excellent work), and I don't know what the relationship between the Equinox brand team and their agency is like... I have zero inside information.
But if I had to bet, I'd bet some kinder version of that fictional conversation happened.
I don't know if the big idea was crushed by fear, ignorance, or politics.
I don't even know for sure this started as a big idea.
But I'm betting it did because I've yet to meet an agency that would pitch as tiny an idea as closing for a single day.
And I've seen a whole lot of clients who take big ideas and make them small.
This campaign had such incredible potential.
But it offers a valuable lesson.
When you have a big idea, let it be a big idea.
Otherwise, don't bother with it at all.