So, the big question posed to me is, “How do I advertise in these tough economic times?”

My answer whether in good times or bad is – don’t spend good money on bad ads.

I just saw an ad for a new gym in, well I won’t give the city, because I’d like to protect the identity of a friend of mine. Anyway, it is a bad ad from a good gym owner. I will definitely call him and tell him he should fire whoever created this ad as well as the person who gave the green light to run it.

I’m sure he will laugh and tell me he has no plans to fire himself. He will likely tell me what I have heard hundreds of times from other gym owners, “But Derek, that ad works for us.”

My reply is always the same, “If a bad ad works for you, just think what a good ad will do for you.” Words of wisdom from Jack Fund, one of the best Creative Directors I have ever worked with.

This bad print ad I saw is for a brand new club trying to get members to start working out in the New Year. The ad is 5 ½ inches by 8 ½ inches. Not a lot of room to advertise, but no matter the size of the ad, you have to emotionally connect with the reader. The biggest thing you notice on this small ad is the year, 2010. It is five inches long by 1 ½ inches high. Nothing else in the ad comes close to its size and focus.

My question for you and for my owner friend will be, “Is there anybody on the planet who doesn’t know it is 2010?” Okay, maybe the Phucowie Tribe in the Amazon, but I’m sure even one of them has an iPhone with the time and date on it. So, I ask you, is the number 2010 the most important piece of information to put on your small print ad when you want someone to join your gym?

Another waste of good money on bad advertising is listing all your brands of strength equipment as if the average person knows the difference.

Two-thirds of our nation is overweight. Half that number is obese. They all want to lose weight. They all want to look and feel better. They are looking for solutions, not names of fitness equipment, much less to be reminded of the year. They are looking for help.

I remember when I was at Gold’s Gym, when our tag line was Serious Fitness, a line I felt was perfect for the brand. But, some members of our corporate team wanted to change it. There was another tag line they were thinking about using instead. I decided to take the new tagline into our famous Venice gym to ask some of our members what they thought of it.

When I finished my survey, I was walking out of the gym toward my office and saw an obese woman in her 50’s working out by herself in the main room of the gym, along side the bodybuilders, professional athletes and celebrities. I hesitated at first to approach her, but I was curious as to what she would say. I introduced myself as the head of marketing for Gold’s Gym and told her that we were thinking of changing our tag line to something else. I showed her the proposed new tagline. She read it then asked, “What was wrong with the old one?” I played dumb, which is easy for me to do, and replied, “What old one?”

She said, “Serious Fitness!” I was pleasantly surprised that she knew it and asked, “You liked that tagline?” With all sincerity she looked me right in the eye and said, “Look at me, I need some serious fitness!”

She went on to say that she tried all the diets and that we were her last hope. She had goals and dreams for herself and thought if we were serious about fitness that maybe we could finally be the one to help her.

Now there are some great words for an ad; hope, goals and dreams, words that emotionally connect with people like this wonderful woman, who together make up 66% of our population.

The fitness industry should be the sexiest industry on earth. It should be filled with passion, emotion and wonder. As much as we may personally feel uncomfortable with change, we love to see someone else change in front of our eyes. Those extreme makeovers or body transformations on television’s The Biggest Loser are incredible to watch. We impatiently wait for the results. Results are what your members and potential members are hoping for.

So, if you are going to spend your money on any kind of advertising in good times or bad, make every penny count. The look of the ad and its message need to engage people. Nobody ever bought anything without getting excited or emotional about it. You need to find the words and the pictures that move people. Don’t clutter up your ad with useless information. Try one picture, one headline. Got Milk? Got it?

To the question, “Will people buy things in these tough economic times?” Hell yes, especially if it’s something cool, if it’s something that will help them prosper, and if it is something that will make them feel good. It’s all in how you advertise it!

So, where do you start advertising? Start with your own customers. Brands that I do business with like Apple, Nike, Staples, DirecTV, Continental, Southwest, Virgin, Marriott, all send me email blasts. Do I mind? No. If I have used their products or services before and I like them, why wouldn’t I want to hear from them and continue to buy from them?

My clients ask me how often they should send out email blasts. My standard answer to them is, at least once a month. You don’t always have to sell them something. You just have to remind them that you care about them as customers. You can inform them of a new class, new instructor, new trainer, an upcoming event, health and fitness tips, etc.

Three ways of generating more revenue: 1. Get new members; 2. Get your members to buy more ancillary items; and 3. Get your members to buy more often. Those brands I mentioned that I love and do business with? They get me to buy a lot of their products and services. And some of them like the airlines and hotels reward me. (See the movie “Up in the Air” with George Clooney.)

Also, fix your web site. There are so many bad web sites out there. This is the age of cyber communication. Growing up in California when someone said surf, we all thought waves. Now it’s all about surfing the net. The world is smaller and more informative now that we have web sites, email, Twitter, My Space, Facebook, etc. My nine-year-old nephew has a mobile phone now and is texting me. When I was nine, I communicated with two Knudsen Orange Juice cans with a piece of string between them. My skateboard was a two by four with…never mind.

I find myself using my client Joe Cirulli of Gainesville Health & Fitness as a barometer for marketing a successful gym. I’ve sat in his sales and marketing meetings and have been blown away by the abundant communication that goes on inside his organization. I see a man who reads everything he can and attends as many seminars and roundtables as possible in his quest to be a better businessman.

I see Joe sharing his experience and knowledge with fellow gym owners when they make a pilgrimage to see him in Gainesville, Florida. I see him getting involved with his Chamber of Commerce, and becoming their President. He sponsors charities and donates fitness equipment to high schools and supports his famous University of Florida Gators. I see him being recognized on magazine covers and winning awards for best business, best sales staff, or for helping Gainesville become the fittest city in the country.

Joe Cirulli is considered one of the best gym operators in the world and, more importantly, he’s one of the finest human beings you will ever meet. And that, my dear reader, brings us to the best advertising in the world, Word of Mouth.

When you can make a difference in your community, your city, your market, and you can give the people around you hope and a promise to help them fulfill their goals and dreams, people will follow you, and even more, they will become evangelists and advertise for you!

Budweiser didn’t become the “King of Beers” by boring us with their ads. They win us over by making us smile and laugh. Nike wows us with their ads and makes us feel we could run faster and jump higher just by wearing their shoes.

So, don’t waste your money on bad advertising. Make every picture and every word in every ad count. From your business card, to your web site, you, your staff, to the branding of your club inside and out – WOW ‘em!