To counter growing vulnerabilities, publicity shy Fitbit launches eight-figure marketing blitz

By James Robinson , written on November 17, 2014

From The News Desk

As I wrote here on Pando at the end of last month, the various splutterings of the wearables market combined with the emergence of the Apple Watch have represented the end of a golden age for Fitbit, one where it only had to show up and take home massive swaths of market share.

As solid evidence that Fitbit itself feels this pinch, the notoriously marketing shy company has unveiled its first ever global advertising campaign and its first advertising campaign of any real note, ever. The company wouldn’t say specifically how much it was going to cost but confirmed to Advertising Age that it would clock in somewhere in the eight figure range.

The ad itself is a slick, feel-good, if slightly cookie-cutter piece of work, a minute long cut of people engaging in (to my count) 28 different types of activity (Wheelchair basketball! Soccer! Rockclimbing!). The campaign’s tagline is “Find Your Fit” and was put together by Argonaut in San Francisco, whose largest claim to fame so far was doing the 2014 Volkswagen Super Bowl ad.

This new campaign -- which has debuted in cinemas over the weekend, will premiere on TV today and play across network and cable channels, eventually stretching its legs across Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa -- is a clear “Please God let us survive the Apple Watch” move.

"We're actually excited they're entering," Tim Rosa, Fitbit’s VP-global marketing told Advertising Age. "All ships rise in a high tide, and they're going to bring a lot of education to the category."

"We feel like the category is maturing, so the time felt right to launch a brand and product campaign...It's getting more competitive so we felt like it was a good time to step up our game."

Rosa’s words do have a bland common sense to them. Why wouldn't they respond to the inevitable onslaught of the Apple Watch? But considering Fitbit’s history, this new campaign is a clear sign of just how grave a threat it must see Apple. When Nike came thundering into the activity tracker market with the Fuelband in 2012, with endorsements from Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Durant and Lance Armstrong to boot, this didn’t move Fitbit’s marketing needle at all. When I heard James Park speak earlier this year he bragged about Nike having spent more at SXSW in 2012 than Fitbit did on marketing for that entire year. Fitbit’s largest competitor, Jawbone was most recently valued at $3.3 billion and is developing an impressive operation of its own. But through it all, Fitbit has always kept its head down and shunned the spotlight.

It is not like Fitbit's numbers are sagging either, according to figures in the Advertising Age story, at the end of the third quarter of this year, NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service have Fitbit at 69 percent market share. Jawbone is at 14 percent. So if you ignore greater market issues, like abandonment rates, Fitbit is still sitting just fine.

The technology behind the activity tracker has long been in danger of getting swallowed up into something more complex. Apple is a coveted brand, placed perfectly to do just this, where Fitbit has long prided itself on functional, easy to understand and available.

This new campaign is the first acknowledgement from Fitbit of just how vulnerable it might be. It takes a lot more than a one minute advertising, to make up for seven years of not having an image at all.