Crunch Branding

Sean Gullette
Originally Published in DSilicon Alley Reporter
2000



"If you're on a treadmill, you want to be distracted, so you don't feel how bad your ass hurts." Candy Diepraam is talking about her decor strategy for Crunch, not proposing a slogan for rat-racers on the receiving end of the information age's garish rough trade. Or is she?

Sean Gullette talks about branding with Candy Diepraam, Creative Director of Crunch Fitness

Before Crunch took over my gym, I would go to the fifth floor in the afternoons. It was a large white loft room, the floor painted black, almost empty, with high windows facing east. There were few good stationary bikes and benches, and a pile of mats in the corner for yoga. It was a good place to stretch and clear my head, an escape from New York. Against the blank canvas of the quiet space, workouts could sometimes enter a transcendentally lucid zone, cloud-streaked sky filling the high open windows.

One day, arriving at the gym, I saw a Crunch fitness logo pasted on the front door. They had taken over. I had walked past Crunch gyms before, and glanced in at spandex-clad throngs sweating elbow-to-elbow under banks of captioned TVs, surrounded by surprising decor elements and merchandise racks. I looked away, wincing, and thinking that it must take a certain genius to convince people that their few minutes of solitary leisure--away from the treadmill of the office computer and the TV set--should be spent in an environment of such information overload.

The Crunch brand had already made its impression on me. But I was unprepared for what came next. Little by little, like mold blossoming on a bouquet of flowers, Crunch's branding elements began to deploy throughout the gym: a cute little sign over the water fountain; a clock made of red fabric in the locker room, advertising posters next to the weight benches, walls suddenly painted in bright clashing colors. The density of crunchiness grew steadily in the coming weeks, along with my appreciation of the concept of "branding."

I was puzzled at first. Why aggressively advertise the gym to people who had already signed up? Stoked by billions from Wall Street, branding was the new economy buzzword of the year. Well, this was branding, I figured. But why did it make my brain hurt so badly? I decided to go to the source.

Candy Diepraam is the creative director of Crunch and supervises the visuals and decor for 19 gyms----in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Mission Viejo, California, and Tokyo----with 8 new ones on the way in the next year. She's a clearly a smart, capable and professional designer. Born in South Africa, she graduated from Rice University with a dual degree in art history and business administration. She played competitive tennis for ten years, and worked in commercial real estate. Then, four years ago, she joined Crunch. ______________________________________________

You're the person responsible for the Crunch branding, the look?

That's me!

How would you describe the Crunch brand?

Oh, boy. It's merging fitness, entertainment, fashion, music, attitude, marketing and humor, in a different design setting. Making fitness entertaining.

What do you call those colors you use everywhere?

They're Pantone Yellow and Purple. In the paints, there's a light purple, which is "Barrage," that's the name of the paint. And then there's the dark purple, which is "Princely Purple," and that's the intense theatrical look. And then there's "Theater Red."

Did the Crunch aesthetic evolve out of the fitness craze of the '80s--brightly colored spandex, and leg warmers, and sports walkmans?

It emerged from the owner (Doug Levine) as an entrepreneur seeing an opportunity in a market that was very staid. And definitely there was a fitness craze busting out in the '80s. So he came up with the idea of this brand that made fitness fun.

Branding used to be a very painful procedure involving burning the flesh and skin with a hot iron.

Right. Which I totally relate to, coming from Texas.

So how did it become a respectable professional skill? What is branding?

Branding is taking a concept and making it your image. It's the product of who you are.

The brand IS the product?

Yes. In our case, certainly, it is.

What was your vision for it when you were hired four years ago?

I felt like we need a higher attention to detail when it came to executing aesthetic elements at the gym level. Systems and procedures had to be put in place so people understood how to execute those items the right way. And having consistent visual themes affords us numerous economies of scale and quality control and we can grow at a much quicker pace. I saw they were missing out on a lot of branding opportunities.

What does your apartment look like?

I live in Tribeca in a loft. It's an old loft. It's very open and simple. It's earthy. It mixes a lot of different materials, like wood and steel and glass. But the overall style reflects my personality as an individual. Art pieces that I collected from my travels and things that I made myself, painting and photography, old family photos.

That sounds wonderful. So, given how personal and tasteful and customized-for-you your home is, how did you hatch this outrageous look for all these gyms?

Right. Well, you know, I was influenced by the abstract expressionist movement, colorists. People who know me will tell you my personality is very colorful and I'm definitely not afraid to use color and I think that people shouldn't be afraid to use color.

Who are your favorite designers?

Well interiors-wise, I like Phillippe Stark as it relates to what I'm doing now, with his clean lines, and play of scale, and it has a personality and humor and an edge to it. A bit more classical, older would be architects like Le Corbusier, Frank Gehry.

But Candy, I mean, jeez, you're working with bright yellow and lavender, and pink bunnies in boxing shorts and huge red plastic hands and banks of closed-captioned TVs.

I know, know! Isn't it fun?

Well...I hate it. I can't stand it. It makes my skin crawl. Do you ever think you're infantilizing the customers with all these dopey slogans and bright colors and TV sets and cartoon characters everywhere?

We're about that saturation. We're about energy. And most of our customers are in the 18-35 range. And its what we're about. That's why people go to us. They expect boldness.

Do you get bored easily?

Um...yeah.

Do you dream in color or black and white?

Color.

What colors?

It varies. Actually, sometimes I dream in black and white and sometimes dream in color.

Part of the reason I wanted to talk to you--beside that you ruined my gym--is because I think you're the avant-garde of our visual future. These surfaces are druglike; they're calculated to produce a state of overstimulation in the customer.

We want them to forget that they're working out. Because working out is hard. It's not always fun. If you're walking on a treadmill, you want to be distracted by stuff that's going on around you, so you don't feel how bad your ass hurts. So that's sort of the underlying concept with all the distractions.

As opposed to leaving the space relatively empty and allowing the customer to stimulate and motivate themselves in their own ways. You know, you don't have to brand everything.

Exactly...

But you do brand everything, Candy. Down to little crap on the wall of the locker room.

We do. We do.

Why couldn't you just leave something alone. Keep it simple in some areas.

You don't have to brand everything. But there has to be consistency across the board as we grow, so something has to be developed to address even he little things. So if you're creating something to address that function, it should have the personality.

One staircase has yellow on one wall, purple on the other. As you go down the stairs it feels like your right brain and your left brain are separating. It's more aggressively jarring than the Sex Pistols stuff Jamie Reid did.

The next stage of the project is graphics.

There's MORE coming in the staircase?

There's more coming. But actually we've gotten so much positive feedback in terms of the gym feels. Although I was really nervous, I've got to tell you.

Do people ever come up to you and say, these Crunch gyms are the ugliest, most heinous spaces I've ever seen?

No. I haven't actually had that bad of a comment.

Is this "Who Wants to Kick a Millionaires' Ass" thing yours? Is there any chance the Millionaire will kick the Crunch person's ass?

I think that he just might. Ha ha.