Why Is Crunch Gym Forcing Spiderman 3 "Marketing Experiences" On Their Spinning Classes?

Yesterday we followed up on reader’s bad experience at Crunch Gym by calling 2 of their locations, the corporate office and interviewing Angie, our reader.

Listen to the whole mp3 recording (32 min)
Call to 38th st Crunch (2:46)
Call to Chelsea Crunch (5:12)
Call to Corporate (5:52)
Interview With Angie (18:07)
(full transcript inside)

Angie said she took a stationary bike or “spinning” class on Tuesday and found her group subjected to a bizarre, forced, Spiderman 3 marketing experience…

As the lights dimmed, the instructor that today was going to be a Spiderman 3 class. Two plasma screens came on and played the movie trailer. One lady got up and said, “What the heck is this all about?” and left. Then the class began with the usual instructions to speed up, to slow down in certain parts, and as the group pumped away, silent interview clips with the Spiderman 3 stars played on the twin monitors. Music from the movie pounded in the background.

Angie found the experience disconcerting and uncomfortable. No warning was given that this would be the Spiderman 3 class. The marketing materials were not incorporated into the class, they didn’t bike down Spiderman Street.

We weren’t able to get much out of Crunch, though it was fun trying and getting transferred to voicemail box “unknown,” apparently a trans-dimensional portal of some sort. You also get to hear us attempt to beatbox to the hold music. You don’t hear it in the call, but we left messages which were not returned. We also sent emails, which were not returned.

We did find that the movie clips were restricted to just one location, at 38th st, and it was only for three days this week.

It’s pretty creepy how advertising penetrates into every orifice of human existence. New technologies let consumers block website ads and popups, or fast-forward through commercials. We’ve come to expect all manner of advertising in public spaces, even boys spinning arrows on street corners. But when you’re paying not inexpensive annual fees to go to a gym, you should at least be able to choose if you’re going to attend a co-branded aerobics class. It’s hard enough to go to the gym as it is, and when you do, they exploit you with a shoddily assembled marketing experience. Good luck trying to cancel your membership in protest, gym contracts are notoriously difficult when it comes to doing so.

Just another reason why it’s best to sign up for a month to month plan. The initial membership fee may be higher but it can end up being well worth it if you need to exercise some consumer choice. — BEN POPKEN

PREVIOUSLY: Hapless Crunch Gym Aerobics Class Trapped In Spiderman 3 Marketing Web

Full transcript follows:

38th street

CONSUMERIST: I had a question about your spinning classes.

Crunch: Mmhmm.

CONSUMERIST: I was hearing from a friend of mine that you guys were playing, like, Spiderman music and clips in those classes. Is that true?

Crunch: Okay, give me one minute.


Crunch: It was only for three days, it’s back to normal now.

CONSUMERIST: Oh, um, so you’re not doing it anymore?

Crunch: No.

CONSUMERIST: That’s too bad ’cause I like Spiderman. Are you guys going to do anything like that in the future? Like do a little combo movie-

Crunch: We might, we’re always doing something new. They always come out with something new, so you never know.

CONSUMERIST: Yeah. Do you get like a reduced cost when you go to a class and like they’re showing you like marketing clips and stuff? Do you get like a free class for that?

Crunch: Well all classes are inclusive with the membership-


Crunch: All classes are free with the membership.

CONSUMERIST: Oh, so but if you go to one of these spinning classes where they’re showing you the movie do you get like a little discount off your membership annual cost for seeing those ads or anything?

Crunch: No.

CONSUMERIST: You guys should do that, ’cause that would make some good sense.

Crunch: Yeah.

CONSUMERIST: Before you go into the class do you sign a form that says, like, you’re agreeing to see advertising or anything?

Crunch: Not really, there’s sign-in sheets down at the front desk when you come in just to sign up for the class, but nothing like that.

CONSUMERIST: Oh, okay. In the membership agreement does it say that when you go to classes you might see you know, Crunch gym has the right to market to you when you’re in the class?

Crunch: I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

CONSUMERIST: It doesn’t? Okay, so like people aren’t informed at all that you go to the gym and then be subjected to a marketing campaign?

Crunch: No.

CONSUMERIST: Okay, wow. Who’s your favorite Spiderman villain?

Crunch: I don’t really watch Spiderman.

CONSUMERIST: You should, it’s good. I like Venom, he’s pretty scary. You got to watch out for him in the new one. My favorite Spiderman comic was the one where people went to the gym and they thought they were going to exercise and instead like they got subjected to a marketing campaign and then they went out to the movie like zombies. It was crazy, cause that’s kinda like what cults do. Thanks, have a good day.


Darrell: Crunch, this is Darrell.

CONSUMERIST: Hi Darrell, I heard from a friend of mine that your spinning classes are showing Spiderman clips, is that still going on?

Darrell: In our spin classes at ???????

CONSUMERIST: Yeah in the spinning classes.

Darrell: Let me check that, please hold. *hold* Thank you for holding please. I believe they’re showing them at our 38th street facility, we aren’t showing any Spiderman clips in our spin class.

CONSUMERIST: Oh, are you showing them, are any of the other locations doing anything like that or just 38th street?

Darrell: I assume 38th because that’s what it says on the sign.

CONSUMERIST: Oh okay. Are you guys planning on doing anything like that? A little combo exercise/marketing adventure?

Darrell: Those decisions are usually made by our corporate office, they’re not made on a club level.

CONSUMERIST: Okay, I was just wondering if you knew of any upcoming for your location?

Darrell: We’re not exactly sure, they don’t send it to us until maybe a couple of days before the event.


Darrell: So it’s not like we have stuff planned months in advance, there’s a lot of different programs, a lot of different classes, so it’s really hard to say.

CONSUMERIST: Yeah. Does that seem like a good idea to you to-I mean, maybe like people could get a discount off their annual membership fee if they go to a class that’s got like a bunch of advertising in it.

Darrell: Once again, that’s not a decision made by us at the club level, that’s usually made by our corporate office. So, we’re not even, we’re not able to make those type of decisions.

CONSUMERIST: Right, well maybe like if you could put that in the suggestion box or something.

Darrell: Yeah, absolutely, that’s a great suggestion. We could totally do that. Everything else, like the major decisions, are made by our corporate office. Would you like the number?

CONSUMERIST: Uh, sure, why not.

Darrell: Are you in Marketing?


Darrell: Are you a member?


Darrell: Okay.

CONSUMERIST: I mean, what do you personally think about that? You know, you go to the exercise class and then you know you’re seeing like a marketing campaign, basically, that you weren’t expecting.

Darrell: I don’t actually take spin classes, I have a bad leg, so I wouldn’t even know what to think. It’s really hard for me to say, I don’t really have an opinion on that.

CONSUMERIST: Okay. I mean, in a hypothetical universe where you didn’t have a bad leg and you did take spinning classes, and you walked in one day and Spiderman was up there. And it wouldn’t even have to be Crunch, it could be some other gym.

Darrell: Honestly, it’s a company, we’re not really able to make those type of comments.

‘Cause I work for the company, so we’re not able to make comments like that. It’s best for a member that has a suggestion to contact out corporate office, or what they could do is just fill out a suggestion card. I work for the company so I’m not able to make any type of comments or suggestions.


Darrell: So it’s hard to say.

CONSUMERIST: Right. I mean, just like as a person-to-person, I heard that and went, what?! So I’m wondering what other people think.

Darrell: Yeah, I mean we haven’t gotten any feedback, like we don’t do it here at this facility, so it’s really hard to say. I would suggest to call a club where they do have the advertisement, perhaps, maybe someone from the staff over there would have a better feedback. I don’t know if they’d be willing to give you that type of information. I couldn’t even comment on that, we don’t have that going on here, so it’s really hard to say. Good luck though, would you still like the corporate number?


Darrell: Okay, it’s area code 212, the number is 993-0300. You could just hit 0 and the operator will direct your call.

CONSUMERIST: Okay, is there like a special person I should ask for?

Darrell: Well once you speak to the operator she’ll direct your call to the right person. Okay?

CONSUMERIST: There’s no head of incidious marketing campaign that-

Darrell: Well they have a corporate listing of all of the departments, like we don’t have it here at the club. The operator, she has a huge listing of exactly the right person it should go to.


Darrell: Okay? Good luck.

CONSUMERIST: Thanks for your help.

Darrell: Your welcome, have a great day.

CONSUMERIST: You too, ciao.

Darrell: Thank you. Good bye.



Crunch: ??? how may I help you?
Consumerist: Hi, yes, I have an opinion about a marketing campaign that Crunch gym is participating in and I wanted to talk to someone about it. I actually had a suggestion that I think would be a good idea for you guys.
Crunch: Sure hold on.
Crunch: I’m going to transfer you over to the human resources department and they’ll put you through to the right people.
Consumerist: Okay. *singing about human resources*
Voice: You are being transferred to Sarah Barbo.
*singing about Sarah Barbo*
Sarah: Crunch, this is Sarah.
Consumerist: Hi Sarah, how are you?
Sarah: Good thank you.
Consumerist: I had an opinion about a Crunch gym marketing campaign and a suggestion. Are you, what’s your position there?
Sarah: I’m the HR manager.
Consumerist: HR manager? Okay, I’m not sure if you’re the right person to speak to.
Sarah: Probably not.
Consumerist: So like customer service, or PR?
Sarah: Yeah, I’m actually probably going to transfer you to the creative director. Hang on one second, okay?
Consumerist: Okay, so it’s like, I’m not going to get a job with Crunch gym so why are they sending me to human resources? Okay.
*singing and sound effects*
Crunch: Please leave a message after the beep-
*various and sundry obscenities*


Interview with Anie

CONSUMERIST: Hi Angie, this is Ben Popken from the Consumerist.
CONSUMERIST: Hi how are you?
ANGIE: Good, how are you?
CONSUMERIST: Pretty good. So, I wanted to talk to you real quick about your experience at the Crunch gym.
ANGIE: Okay, I’m glad you’re interested because at the time when it all happened I knew I could leave and complain to the people at the desk, but I didn’t feel like it mattered. You know, it’d just be like what a cranky person, forget it, she’s not fun, so it’s kind of nice, I’m glad that you’re interested because it was a really awful experience and it made me worry about the future of everything. Even more than I already do-like marketing and advertising invading our lives.
CONSUMERIST: Totally. At first I thought it was kind of funny, but then the more I thought about it there’s something really wrong about this.
ANGIE: Yeah, that’s how I felt.
CONSUMERIST: It’s not like going to the gym isn’t hard enough as it is.
ANGIE: I know.
CONSUMERIST: Alright, so why don’t we start, why don’t you just kind of tell me what happened on that day.
ANGIE: Well I was going to a class that I had just started trying to regularly go to, and I like the teacher, and she was setting up and I noticed that she was doing, there was two plasma screens in there, and I had never noticed them before.
CONSUMERIST: What kind of class is this, sorry?
ANGIE: It’s a spinning class, so that means it’s in like a small room, very concentrated, where there’s maybe like 50 bikes in a room that’s 150 square feet. I mean I’m probably stretching it a little bit, but it’s very crowded and part of it is that you’re in this dark room listening to loud music and you just pedal really fast, and you kind of just, it’s an intense cardio thing. I thought it’d be a thing I’d never like, but I’m really into it, I don’t get bored and you’re just constantly going. It’s really about a group experience and loud music, kind of thing.
CONSUMERIST: So you kind of like get into the zone-
ANGIE: Get into the zone, and you listen to the music and, I chose this class cause I like the music my instructor plays, and I found that I lose myself and just exercise and don’t get bored. And that’s why I go to that class. But it is kind of, when you’re new to the gym, it’s like a weird, it looks like a weird room cause it’s like a dark room with a black light, and it just doesn’t seem like what you’d expect of a gym, but I’ve opened my mind to it and I like it.
CONSUMERIST: Kind of sounds like a dance club experience.
ANGIE: It’s like being at a dance club experience but no drugs or drinking and you’re on a stationary bike. So it’s like a very intense class and you go for 45 minutes and often you kind of get the endorphin high, so moreso than other classes I feel like a different person when I’m done with it cause it’s so intense…if it went well. So all of those things take into consideration, and I’m going to this location that’s not normally the location I go to, but I started going there because it’s close to my job. And, so two plasma screens, I hadn’t notice them before, because ??? and they hand’t been turned on. So the teacher was turning them on, and I was kind of thinking well I don’t know if I want to watch television, but whatever, maybe what’s they want at this club. And then it was just really awful that she’s like, well today’s going to be the spiderman 3 class, the Spiderman ride. And this teacher, she was being very, she didn’t use any sarcasm about it, but I could tell just from how she is, I could tell this was just awful this was for her to have to do, but she didn’t say anything negative about it at all. She was very, like mutual.
CONSUMERIST: OK So what happens after the TV screens going on
A: The TV screens are on and she says well I’m showing spiderman clips and I have to show you the trailer before we get started and you’re not going to hear the dvd while we’re going on the bike so we had to watch the trailer of spiderman. And she says now for our workout we’re going to be listening to music from spiderman 1 and 2 and then you can watch these videos. The rooms so small, like two plasma screens are really drawing to your eyes and they’re bright and no matter how much I tried not to look at them you kind of can’t avoid them. Also there’s so much action going on it’s kind of makes you nauseous while you’re on a bike going really fast and trying to exercise. So all that was going on.
A: Then the music was not the kind of music that is normally in that class. It was like that droning grunge rock that’s in spiderman and it’s just kind of like … it’s what the whole case is. It’s just annoying that we had to listen– it’s like I didn’t understand what the spiderman marketing team was trying to do by making us have to watch that for forty-five(?) minutes. It was just like clips of maybe the different actors talking into the audio. You could see their talking heads like Tobey Maguire and I don’t even know what they’re saying and it’s like they’re a presence in the room.
A: In the meantime we’re listening to all this music, and it’s just one of those things where I got more stressed out by the class. Then at the end of the class they did a drawing so they drew a number and they gave anyone on that bike one ticket to the premier of spiderman.
A: What was frustrating is that I don’t know if my comrades at the Gym — I don’t know what their — There is a woman next to me lwho left and she’s like, “What’s going on with these TV’s?”, and she was strong and left and I always feel like my voice in the situation is always going to be the minority. I couldn’t tell if people were into it but it just seems like I really — I always think that I’m more critical of these things because I come from an art background and I know about how marketing is operating on us. I study those things and I — I don’t know if other people are just — I shouldn’t assume that weren’t offended but no one else walked out.
A: Maybe they were all feeling the same way as me.
CONSUMERIST: Right. So these clips they kind of just sound like it was the B-roll stuff they would shoot for a TV studio. So was it integrated into the experience? Were you like travelling down/biking down spiderman’s street or anything like that?
A: No it was like as if I were watching HBO at 3:00 AM and saw like the making of clip and some of the talking head– It wasn’t even like sometimes on cable they put together a making of the film to promote it. It wasn’t edited together, it was like a really rough DVD that was probably released– It made me feel like they were editing the movie before the premier on Friday and this was all that they had to send out. It did not add to the experience it was like being in a sports bar and there was something going on the TV and you’re just kind of passively– It was like crap that they would put out on cable it wasn’t part of the biking thing, it was more about exposing us to the whole Spiderman thing.
CONSUMERIST: Right… In sort of a clockwork orange kind of way
A: That’s a good analogy!
CONSUMERIST: So before you went to the class was there a sign on the door that said this was going to be the spiderman 3 class?
A: Well there wasn’t — I didn’t notice on the day we started because I went to that gym for another class and I don’t remember seeing any spiderman stuff. Then when i walked in I saw a poster with spiderman but I didn’t really put together that they were going to do that. I thought maybe there was a drawing and I didn’t– I’m not interested in spiderman so I didn’t even read the sign I just saw his face. I think there was warning but I didn’t know what their [indiscernable].
CONSUMERIST: Did they offer you a reduction in your annual membership, as kind of like an incentive to —
A: No. There wasn’t any– The incentive was you would win tickets to see the movie. That was one thing I was frustrated about– It was like they’re making more money off of marketing to us so you know why not offer us a discount in our membership if we choose the marketing classes or something. There’s no reduction in our membership for taking a class like that. I’m kind of like — I’ve been there maybe three months and that’s the first time I’ve been in this kind of class. I don’t know if that goes on occasionally — I’ve seen other branded classes but I don’t think they involve like a TV and — like I’ve seen like the “Dreamgirls” aerobics class where you’re running the dances from Dreamgirls or something. I’ve seen things like that which are more like kind of mocking the style on TV but I’ve never noticed anything like this where you’re forced to watch the package that was spiderman. I don’t know the company if it was Dreamworks or who makes spiderman but I’ve never seen anything where they have a clear marketing package that’s being broadcast. That’s what I found really disturbing about it.
CONSUMERIST: Right. Do you remember anything in the terms of service or the agreement, like, “We might have these marketing plans”
A: If it was in the fine print I don’t remember. All I pay attention to on those things is how to cancel and the obligations–
CONSUMERIST: [laughs] So are you excited to see spiderman 3?
A: [laughs] No. It was like what am I going to do if I won these tickets? Do I rip them up in front of everyone? I didn’t win so I didn’t have to deal with that. It also kind of made me depressed about how the movie business is all about marketing and all the other things that happens from movies– I know that most movies are about money-making and it was just gross to see that they thought they felt had to stoop that low. I feel like the movie is very appealing to popular culture and I don’t understand why getting another thirty people in my class to go is really going to jack up– I don’t know what their grand scheme was. It felt really sinister that they were stooping that low to constantly focus a group of people for forty-five minutes is really strange.
CONSUMERIST: So do you think you’re going to go back to the class or back to the crunch?
A: Well I’m a member and I did reconsider being there and I feel like it’s kind of the gym that I can afford to go to that is convenient to me and I just want to be more leery of those things starting to happen if they start happening more often I will definitely not be a member there anymore. I’m hoping that this was fluke that they were trying and I wrote them an email on their contacts thing to say that I didn’t like this, but I don’t know how much those things are read by anyone who makes decisions or if one person who is writing to them is going to make them reconsider the money they could make? I did voice it to — [indiscernable] – You never can contact anyone you’re always just sending a recommendation card to people and you don’t really know who is reading it.
A: That’s why I contacted you because I just felt that this is much more immediate and I want them to really know and sending an email I feel like you’ve given us a solution to really making them thinking about it.
CONSUMERIST: Yeah. Probably good instinct because I called myself and I had two different ways. One way I said I had a suggestion and a complaint and the other time I tried asking for the VP of marketing. In both cases I got transferred to and it said, “Looking for, Unknown!”, which I thought was really strange. Then I ended up in some random voicemail box and who knows what happens with that.
A: They don’t give you any — I found out with other clothing stores where everything is broken if you ask to complain they’ll give you a card that you know is going into the big huge box of suggestions and you never feel like you have a voice in anything. I thought it was great that that woman left the class but I also know that she’s doing it for herself, but it’s not going to — those kind of gestures aren’t going to change their attitudes towards it because it’s just one person. I didn’t feel like I could organize the whole group [laughs]
CONSUMERIST: Come on! Revolt!
A: I mean you think everyone else just wanted to get it over with and so and some people watch TV more and maybe they wanted to listen in to it like I don’t have a big TV in my house so, but I think that it was very sinister and I don’t think it was beneficial to anyone but the people making money from it.
CONSUMERIST: There we go.
A: [laughs]
CONSUMERIST: Anything you have– ?
A: It’s exercising — it’s supposed to be a selfish time and not a time that you’re part of a marketing thing.
CONSUMERIST: Right. Or if it is maybe there should be some kind of compensation– They have — I’ve heard of plans where cell phones where it’s advertising supported. Or a free car if it’s plastered with ads or if you put a logo on your forehead and you get like a million dollars
A: [laughing] Maybe if I’d gotten a few months I would have maybe not cared as much. It’s like they print out a schedule and I checked it online and they didn’t have anything marked on that day that there was going to be a spiderman, you know what I mean? It’s like when you’re planning– we all have busy lives and I kind of have really special slots where I can have time to go to the gym. I didn’t know that if I got there — I don’t have a very selectable week that I can, “Ohh Forget it today, I’m gonna come back tomorrow”, you know what I mean? Then I’d never go to the gym because that’s a problem. I want like an email to warn me about it or something– these are our marketing classes this week and if you participate you might win a ticket to spiderman and then I would’ve known “I don’t really care about that I don’t want to go.”
A: So yeah, I just felt like that there was no warning except for that poster and it felt like I had no choice in that matter besides leaving — I guess I could have done that but — It seems like a hostile way to run a gym where you feel like you have to leave a class.
CONSUMERIST: Seems like they dropped the ball in a lot of places on this one. I’m saying that, you know that’s the take-away. Your entire effort: Failure. It didn’t entice you to go see spiderman, now you have a negative feeling about crunch gym, it’s the completely exact opposite of effective.
A: It’s one of those things where I’m guilty right now of saying, “I don’t think anyone else cares”, but thats kind of just like assuming that we’re naive to the power of these things. I’m sure more people in my class were happy about it but it’s one of those things that annoyed me when I left because nobody was going to say anything, it was just going to be “Ohh well did you hear that– that people have accepted that as part of life that we have constant advertising?” maybe I’d probably be underestimating people in my class– I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt annoyed by it but I didn’t get the chance to talk to anyone.
CONSUMERIST: All right, great, I think that about covers it all. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot for all this and I’ll try and put it together.
— closing —
A: My pleasure.
CONSUMERIST: My pleasure.
A: If you need anything else, let me know.
CONSUMERIST: Have a good one.
A: Send me an email with whatever you do with this.
CONSUMERIST: Sure, definitely.