Shreyas Kulkarni

Gyms have gone "from 0 to 40-50%" of pre-COVID levels in the past couple of months says Naresh Krishnaswamy, growth and marketing,

He talks of the brand's TV campaign and how the opening of gyms hasn't affected its online offerings or memberships.

Society uses indicators like your place of employment and residential address to form an identity profile of you. Often, we use these markers to judge ourselves. Since last year, a new indicator has started to rear its head and now stands shoulder to shoulder with the others. It is your level of fitness.

The Coronavirus pandemic has managed to shine a much-needed light on this open secret, i.e., your fitness level. It’s an open secret because most of us, despite knowing its importance, acted like we did not.

While most brands still talk about masking, and building and maintaining the right hygiene habits,, a leading fitness brand, is sending a direct message to us through its latest campaign, Fitness is not an option.

“Fitness in India is still nascent,” says Naresh Krishnaswamy,’s growth and marketing head. He believes that with the pandemic and heightened awareness around immunity, this (campaign) “will be an inflexion point for the fitness category.” People will realise fitness is not something that is “good to have, but it is a must-have.”

The brand has released two ads. Both bank on memorable running scenes from iconic Bollywood movies to drive their message about fitness home. Unfortunately, the first ad was pulled after Yash Raj Films flagged it for copyright.

“We wanted to create funny, quirky, memorable situations, where we could bring out this message,” reveals Krishnaswamy.

Naresh Krishnaswamy
Naresh Krishnaswamy

Bollywood wasn’t on their minds initially, he admits. But when the scriptwriters came up with the idea, it excited the brand. “Once you see something and laugh at it, it is hard to forget it. So, when we saw it, we decided that this is our campaign and ran with it.” did not use traditional creative agencies for the campaign. It worked with a talented duo of scriptwriters - Girish Narayandass and Anuya Jakatdar. Narayandass also directed both the films that were produced by Supari Studios.

While the two ads talk about the importance of fitness, Krishnaswamy tells us that the company wants to build the category. It means that they “need to widen the communication to make a commentary on fitness, in general, as opposed to telling people why our gyms are better, or why our online classes are better.”

Founded in 2016,, one could say, has stretched its arms in various directions (online and offline fitness, online doctor consultation, fitness e-comm, a healthy cooking blog…).

“We are a fitness platform and offer everything possible, whether it is online classes or gym workouts, group classes, personal training sessions, a nutritionist's appointment, etc., under the ‘Cult’ brand name,” explains Krishnaswamy.

The company has a broad range of products and services, which “we like to classify under the umbrella of wellness… like healthy food, supplements, mental health consultations, doctor consultations…”

“We consider ourselves a fitness platform, with a lot of wellness services for users,” he sums it up.

Online versus offline fitness

Indians had to embrace online workouts, while at home, because gyms were shut last year due to the pandemic. Today, they’re not. For a brand that prides itself on its online fitness and workout offerings, it is a critical time, as people can now choose where they’d like to go for workouts.

Krishnaswamy is not too concerned about people heading back to the gyms.’s own offline centres are “100 per cent open.” Anybody who buys its gym membership or opts for its group classes also gets free access to online classes.

“Yes, people are coming back to the gym. But they also tend to balance it out with online efforts when they don't have the time.”

Does this mean that may face a challenge in bringing people on board for its online offerings? No. He feels the shift in behaviour from online fitness to offline or vice versa is transient.

“Gyms have gone from 0 to 40-50 per cent of pre-COVID levels, the online thing has dipped by about 10 per cent in the last couple of months. It's not really a challenge for us to acquire customers… there is a little bit of uptick and dip here and there, but nothing too worrying.”

While all this sounds nice, what about completion rates? People are notorious for dropping out of a gym membership, online or offline, right after joining.

“Drop off is the biggest problem in the fitness industry,” says Krishnaswamy. understands its consumer, having conducted group classes (where it is harder to drop off) all these years. The key, he says, is to keep the customers engaged… “keep them aware of their progress, add variety to their workouts…”

And, are the various YouTube and Instagram fitness accounts a potential threat for

For Krishnaswamy, Instagram is more of a platform for “influencers to show their workout.” It is not a platform where people put their phones down and workout. “YouTube sees a slightly more evolved customer, who searches for a particular workout or a specific thing, like getting a six-pack in six weeks”.

The difference comes down to this.’s audiences “are new to fitness and want to dabble in a variety of things,” Krishnaswamy signs off.