Sunday, February 01, 2009

ROM and the Anti-Social Method of Marketing

The website and print ads for the $14,615 ROM exercise machine are full of numbered lists, grand claims, dire warnings, and bitter asides. ROM, which stands for "Range of Motion," was invented by a man who went broke shortly after creating it. Alf Temme, a Swedish engineer and sauna manufacturer who lives in California, took over.

All the ROM's bizarre advertising seems to come from Temme. He typically sells about 1000 units a year, and has managed to get covered by Esquire and Vanity Fair (the photo here shows VF's Christopher Hitchens torturing himself on the ROM), but sales were way down in 2008. The ads for ROM, which appear in magazines like Forbes and The Atlantic Monthly, are not helping.

The material for this product is the marketing equivalent of folk art. It's naive and self-conscious to the point of undermining itself, as in this bold-type statement on the homepage:
And then there's the section called The Trouble With Experts which is described as "A look at how experts help and hurt society. An interesting analysis." One begins to get the sense that this is more than a product; maybe it's some sort of homespun cult.

But my favorite part of the marketing material is a vague ten-item list called The typical ROM purchaser goes through several stages:
1. Total disbelief that the ROM can do all this in only 4 minutes.

2. Rhetorical (and sometimes hostile) questioning and ridicule.

3. Reading the ROM literature and reluctantly understanding it.

4. Taking a leap of faith and renting a ROM for 30 days.

5. Being highly impressed by the results and purchasing a ROM.

6. Becoming a ROM enthusiast and trying to persuade friends.

7. Being ignored and ridiculed by the friends who think you've lost your mind.

8. After a year of using the ROM your friends admiring your good shape.

9. You telling them (again) that you only exercise those 4 minutes a day.

10. Those friends reluctantly renting the ROM for a 30 day trial. Then the above cycle repeats from point 5 on down.
Instead of merely trumpeting the benefits of the product, the list is preparing the potential convert for a life of hostility and ridicule before he or she can become excited about its possibilities. Imagine a man approaching a woman in a bar with the line "You probably don't believe that I could possibly be a suitable partner. Dating is a nightmare for me. But if you give me a chance, I'll amaze you. However, I should warn you that your friends are going to hate me at first."

The two biggest barriers for the ROM machine (aside from its claim that "This exercise machine is extremely dangerous") are its extremely high price, $14,615, and its claim to give you a total workout in 4 minutes. If Alf Temme, the Swedish-American who manufactures it, eliminated one of those two barriers, he may not be such a bitter advertiser.

To continue the dating analogy, Mr. Temme's product and its struggle are a little like the men in the Atlasphere, the online dating portal for devotees of Ayn Rand. Consider this ad (as excerpted by New York Magazine last November) by some poor sap named Lewis in London:
"I love intelligent, sassy girls, particularly those working in consulting or investment banking (but other fields are great too). Really, nothing is hotter than an accomplished girl in a suit, as long as she is willing to settle down and have my children. I want a girl who will support my ambitions against the naysayers in society."
I want an independent woman with a career and ambitions, but then I want her to forget all that and become wholly dependent on me. Or take Rob from California:
"I am interested in meeting someone that truly embodies the values and virtues of Objectivism. I have found very few women that have not already been beaten down to a flimsy, irrational, empty pulp. I have changed many girls’ lives, but no one has blown me away yet."
Rob, Lewis, and the ROM are all so wrapped up in themselves that they are comically unaware of how weird and anti-social they seem. All -- product and people -- seem lonely and bewildered that the world hasn't fallen for them yet, and at the same time so arrogant and unwilling to compromise that they may doom themselves to a tiny niche market that will adore them in spite of who and what they are.



Blogger Neil Chapman said...

I'm fairly certain that Alf Temme is a German-American , not Swedish.

Yeah, I guess his marketing has been a failure. Then again, selling "only" a thousand ROMs creates gross revenue of 14,615,000. Actually, I think he's only sold about 5,100 of the machines since 1990. That's only 74,536,500 gross. Not bad for a marketing numskull . . .

10:32 PM  

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