Wednesday, February 19, 2014

CrossFit Gives No Fucks


I care a great deal about my CrossFit family and they care a great deal about me. Our coaches and athletes know each other by name, occupation, ability level and personal goals. It has changed my life permanently for the better. This post is not about that. This post is about CrossFit HQ. And how they give no fucks.

First, some background. CrossFit headquarters (HQ) owns the CrossFit brand and the CrossFit games and that's about it. Affiliates pay a very low cost registration fee and their coaches initially attend a weekend-long certification session. Once that happens, it's hands off, and affiliates more or less run autonomously. This low cost of entry for affiliates and increase in popularity among consumers has caused CrossFit as a sport to explode – A rapid growth spurt, if you will, leaving us with what I've often observed as an angsty adolescent in identity crisis. It doesn't know what is wants to be when it grows up. And it's not ready.

This scenario mostly plays out, loudly and clearly, when the community relies on it to act like the mature organization it's not, and the apathetic aftermath plays out in laughable, or sometimes deplorable communications. I submit to you 3 (of many) examples:

1) CrossFit for Hope

Outrage and disgust abounded when the organization tried to coordinate a new fundraising effort across all of its affiliates. They declared CrossFit for Hope would be an affiliate-wide event where participants all over the globe could perform the same workout on the same day and raise funds for St. Jude's Research hospital.

So what went wrong? Everyone can get behind helping sick kids, right? A promo poster of a slutty nurse pulling a wagon of grotesquely caricatured dying children, that's what:

The masses erupted. By the time I entertained blogging my own reaction, dozens existed accusing HQ of a gross misstep.

As a communicator, the appropriate PR strategy here would be to course correct - Acknowledge and amend. Their PR strategy looked more like this:

No, really, they basically told everyone to shove it:

2) The Reebok Hissy Fit

What happens when an inexperienced CrossFit HQ marketing team pairs with a once-popular athletic apparel company (and likely their very steeped, experienced agency) trying to freshen its outdated brand? CrossFit's brand gets owned. Literally. Clearly CrossFit HQ didn't understand the subtle nuances in the brand and logo architecture that Reebok initially created for the Reebok CrossFit Games. And then their Reebok CrossFit clothing line. Maybe you didn't either. But any experienced marketer could see that Reebok managed to make their brand the Masterbrand of CrossFit. It was really genius of Reebok, actually. Not to mention effective.

When CrossFit HQ finally figured this out, it was way too late. And I get the impression that their marketing people took a break from passing notes in study hall long enough to launch a social media attack.

After the social sphere discovered the hissy fit and called out HQ's social media people. What did they do? Gave no fucks:

“We have since hashed things out with Reebok and it worked out great. If you were late to the party and just want to know what everyone else is talking about, sorry. There is no reason to explain what you missed because it has been resolved and we are happy with the result.”

                                  -- Russell Berger, CFHQ

3) T&A

Last but certainly not least, let's not ignore the rampant, gratuitous sexism that often takes place on HQ's Facebook page and, of course, how little they care about it. The photos that CrossFit selects and the comments they allow to be posted in their community are a disgrace to their female athletes. For example:

Many have written about these disparaging practices of CrossFit HQ. Particularly following a provocative shot of athlete Talayna Fortunato climbing a rope in the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games, the communities fired back. In response to the concern raised by their communities, CrossFit HQ responded exactly as expected – With great apathy. At best, they remain unchanging, neutral and unapologetic. At worst they are defensive and antagonistic.

So, to recap:

It's time for CrossFit HQ to understand that, where the brand is concerned, contrarian doesn't have to equal offensive or careless, and a little tact is never a bad thing. Simply put, it's time to grow up. And perhaps it's time to rethink their "Do Not Cross CrossFit" social media practices. It's time to give a fuck.

UPDATE: On June 4, 2014, HQ posted a video parodying Jesus as a "Cross"Fitter. Get it? Damn they're clever. Personally, I'm not offended. But their threepeat Fittest Man alive, Rich Fronig, who owns CrossFit Faith and is (annoyingly) vocal about his spiritual drive and commitment? He may think differently.

I presume they will go on without any regard for the implications to their brand until they badly lose a lawsuit. Otherwise their business model seems to allow CrossFitters, who identify most closely with their own, independently owned and operated gyms, to distance themselves from the atrocity of HQ. Good thing, because those CrossFitters input is falling on deaf ears.


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    1. Nowhere in this post do I mention steroids. I have no idea what you're talking about.

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