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So it looks like the Wall Street Journal has also become obsessed with yoga, following on the heels of the NY Times’ yoga blitz last month. After last week’s lululemon story, another article about yoga turned up on their Speakeasy blog yesterday – Stefanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body, with an analysis and history lesson on the commercialization of  yoga.

Like “Star Wars” or Matisse, the merchandising, advertising, and profiteering of yoga has run the full gamut, from action figures to deluxe vacations to how-to-books that apply yoga to almost every human endeavor…

Now, there’s nothing left to exploit. But before you condemn any number of culprits (shareholders, American materialism, craven gurus, cynical marketers), you better understand that this process took some time — a century in fact — and yoga’s most committed followers have hurried it along. (via WSJ Speakeasy blog)

She notes that the early American practitioners were from families with money and that the first time yoga was used to sell something non-yoga-related was a 1963 7-Up ad in Life Magazine. Basically, what I hear her saying in this post is “yoga in the west has always been commercialized, what’s the big deal?” Like much of Stefanie’s writing and yoga commentary, I find this piece to be complacent (she also told Well+GoodNYC, “What I find more surprising is how much Sturm und Drang ads like ToeSox and Girls in Yoga Pants stir up. Isn’t it pretty obvious that a sustained yoga practice has nothing to do with either of these cultural instances, that women’s sexuality will long be exploited to move merchandise, and that the best thing to do is to ignore them?”).

However, this article did make me pause to reflect on my stance against the commercialization of yoga, and why I feel compelled to monitor and write about it. I realized that my anti-commercialization views aren’t fueled by nostalgia (believing that yoga used to be much less commercialized or market driven) or a desire for purity (I don’t consider myself a yoga purist at all ~ mainly because I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a “pure yoga”).

I realized that I resist the commercialization of yoga because I resist the commercialization of everything. I don’t believe that yoga deserves special treatment; I believe that the commercialization of everything, from food to sex to art, is unhealthy for people and our world.

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A yoga class in a Washington DC lulu store (via washingtontimes.com)

According to a Wall Street Journal article, yoga-inspired clothing manufacturer lululemon is employing unconventional and inexpensive marketing strategies. While other fitness-wear lines (especially multinational sports shoe brands) pay crazy money for big name celebrities to push their lines, lululemon appoints community ambassadors and doesn’t pay for them, instead giving them $1000 worth of product and inviting them to teach for free in their stores. This is, apparently, a very radical thing to do in the fitness apparel industry.

Analysts say they are particularly impressed that Lululemon eschews the traditional marketing strategy of hiring high-priced sports celebrities to model its outfits. Lululemon spends almost nothing on advertising beyond occasional print ads in yoga and running magazines.

Instead, it recruits the type of athlete who tends to influence active women: fitness instructors who lead yoga, spinning, Pilates and running classes. The cost of this stealth strategy—Lululemon declines to call it marketing campaign—is minimal.

Lululemon provides apparel stipends of varying amounts to local fitness stars who model the apparel not only in their regular classes but also in sessions held inside Lululemon stores. [via wsj.com]

It seems to be working and lululemon is cashing in on the $15 billion market for women’s fitness clothing. The article gave us some stats, which I don’t understand, as proof: “Lululemon posted second-quarter earnings of 30 cents per share, far above the 24-cents-a-share mean estimate of analysts and more than double the 13 cents a share posted in last year’s quarter. The earnings gain came on a 56% rise in revenue, and a 31% boost in sales at stores open more than a year.”

News to me: lululemon only runs “occasional” print ads in a handful of yoga and running magazines. Basically, they have eschewed traditional advertising strategies in favour of getting into the local community and marketing through word of mouth and local influencers.

What I find interesting about this is that while lululemon is basically operating on a grassroots model, the rest of the yoga industry is operating on the big sports brands model (think: Seane Corn for Lucy, a number of teachers for Manduka/Jade yoga mats, everything that YAMA promises, the list goes on…). I don’t know how much a high-priced yoga celebrity would cost, but I assume it’s much more than the $1000 stipend that lululemon gives its community ambassadors.

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