String Theory takes gym fans into the zone for Les Mills Immersive Fitness launch

Rather than sweating it out with barbells, grunting gym buddies, or shouty instructors, what if gyms let you escape? That is, let you go to that place in your head that ‘happens’ when you’re rocking out in a dance tent or speeding up a glacier on a bike. It’s called the zone, and it’s where Les Mills wants to take customers, with its new virtual-reality based venture called The Project: Immersive Fitness.

With Reebok as a partner, and directed by Les Mills Jr (chief executive Phillip Mills’ son), The Project surrounds participants in 360 degree cinema and sound, and combined with the usual Les Mills workouts and instruction, takes them somewhere beyond a regular gym class. A launch event was staged in London on May 28 to kick off a European tour that will include Milan and Paris.

Auckland ad agency String Theory created the sci-fi-like promo video for the launch events, with Assembly on production. And researcher and strategist Jane Cherrington says the brief from the Les Mills team was: “This is new territory we’re in, no one has done anything like this before, so we want to communicate the experience rather than what literally we offer. It’s about taking the gloves off and climbing into that space in your head where people really immerse themselves.”

The video involves a woman in gym gear running through parallel universes filmed in Auckland locations. After being pulled by her alter-ego through her gym mirror, she finds herself in all sorts of battle zones including a mountain bike pursuit in Woodhill forest and sprint across a west coast cliff-top, fighting off baddies with her fists. At the end she meditates and leaves “the zone”. The video is shown at the launch to the media and some 300 members of the public who’ve signed up online to experience The Project.

With the London launch date already set, the team had to scramble to create the promo in less than six weeks. “And that included the script being written—it was an absolutely extraordinary turnaround,” says Cherrington. Jeremy Taine and Nick Barnes have worked with Mills for many years on various campaigns – “They’re sort of his go-to people,” says Cherrington. Likewise she says Mills’ team is great to work with, “courageous clients who trust the creative process”.

She said working with Reebok and Les Mills was an “interesting process”.

“The organisations have a strong partnership, but when you’re working with two brands not one, you’ve got to get that sweet spot that resonates with both parties”.

She said getting that sweet spot relies on being able to tell a story well even when it’s to a bunch of people on the other side of the world via teleconferencing. “It was amazing seeing Jeremy take them through the script and to see everyone clapping through the teleconferencing. At the heart of pulling something like this off is great story telling.”

Cherrington says the idea behind the campaign was to engage people with how fitness has “become a different thing now”.

“Back in the day, there were 1-2 people in the office who went to the gym. Today, it’s more like there are 1-2 people in the office who don’t go to the gym (or exercise). [Phillip Mills and his wife Jackie] wanted to explore why so many people have taken it up,” she says.

“Phillip Mills and his wife are frantically on a mission to see what fitness can do for people’s lives. They’re wonderfully engaged, and always pushing the envelope in the fitness world, aiming for the next level.”

In a press release, Mill says: “The concept of ‘Immersive Fitness’ is all about what the fitness community refer to as the ‘zone’ – that state of mind where people are performing at their peak; a place of focus, achievement and fulfilment.  At Les Mills, we have been creating group workout environments that lead people to the zone for 30 years; through music, choreography and rock star instructors. The Project really takes the zone to the next level and we, along with our collaborator Reebok, are so thrilled to share this brand new fitness experience with the world.”

While Les Mills wants its customers to get more involved in the gym, US-based startup Peloton is aiming to create some immersion for them at home: an exercise bike that comes with a specially designed tablet that connects users to professional spin classes

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