Banner Advertisement

China’s Fitness Boom Driven by Women

Posted on | April 20, 2008 | No Comments

by Fara Warrner

When I began traveling to China in the mid-1990s, the only Western-style gyms or fitness centers were found in five-star hotels that catered to business travelers and expatriates. If you did see a Chinese citizen “working out” it was often older people practicing tai chi or other Asian-inspired exercise routines.

A decade later, China has been hit by a fitness craze driven in part by the country’s hosting of the Olympics this year. The government installed thousands of gym sets in local neighborhoods—strange-looking brightly-colored devices that looked like they were meant for the schoolyard—to promote fitness among its citizens.

But the fitness boom also has been driven by young upwardly mobile women in China’s urban centers. These women see gym attendance as a way to show off their modernity, stay fit, reduce stress and lose weight. Wander through one of China’s mega-malls and you are likely to come across 10,000-square foot fitness centers and a mega-sized “hot” yoga studios filled with young women sweating out their stress.

Global marketers are just beginning to tap into this athletic power of Chinese women with apparel makers such as Nike and Adidas and gym franchises such as Bally’s looking to China as a growth market.

But where it took decades for companies such as Nike to create products specifically designed for a woman’s body in the U.S., companies doing business in China are already focusing on Asian sizing and styling. Following a trip I made to China last summer, I wrote about how Adidas was localizing its global offerings to meet the needs of Chinese consumers.

Notably, Adidas created an ad campaign to promote its women’s lines specifically for Chinese women that highlights the subtle, but important, nuances global marketers must be aware of as they consider moving into China.

On the surface, it would be easy to say that Chinese women are interested in fitness for the same reasons as U.S. women—and expect the same results.You see them working out at gyms dressed in clothes that you would find around the world. But Adidas has found that Chinese women view fitness quite differently from their counterparts in the U.S. or Western Europe.

The campaign’s tagline “The Power Within” played up Adidas’ research that Chinese women were more interested in what fitness does for their overall health than showing off the muscular, intensely trained body that we see in the U.S. Indeed, while Chinese women are increasingly interested in fitness, rarely do you see advertisements that play up muscularity or intense athleticism. Instead, fitness advertising—as evidenced by Adidas’ campaign—shows women who still fit within a traditional view of femininity in China. That attention to detail has helped Adidas tap into the power of the women’s fitness movement in China—and serves as a lesson to other marketers looking to tap the Chinese fitness boom.


Leave a Reply