All the gear but no panacea


Wearables are more popular than ever but not yet more effective

By Kathy Garnett, Planner, Europe

Have you had the 10,000 steps ‘buzz’ yet today? If not, why not use the two-minutes it will take you to read this article to get some tactical steps in?

Unless you’ve been sleep-walking through the last three years you’re unlikely to have missed the ‘fitbit and friends’ phenomenon that’s generated a category worth more than £7.5billion and placed an intelligence strap or ‘technological bracelet’ on the wrists of 94 million people – a figure that is predicted to reach a staggering 300 million by 2020.

That equates to a lot of steps, squats, revolutions or the like, and a healthy bottom line for leading wearable tech brands Garmin, Fitbit, Apple and Chinese giant Xiaomi. It’s also welcome reading for the plethora of new, alternative wearable tech solutions expected to bridge the gap between fitness and fashion, such as Levi’s and Google’s smart Cyclist Commuter jacket and Intel’s Curie Module, the latter a small device that can be inserted into a wide range of garments and objects to track key biometric indicators.


So with our wrists adorned with shiny clever things, surely we’re healthier and fitter than ever before? The UN can remove ‘tackling the global obesity crisis’ from its to-do list, health providers across the globe can breathe a collective sigh of relief and investors in athleisure brands can start lining up that early retirement. Right?

Wrong. Unfortunately for many wearers, the black strap is nothing more than a badge of honour, having no impact on their overall health. A 2016 study of 800 participants published in the Lancet found that even when incentivised, fitness device wearers did not complete more steps, and an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association was even more dire in its assessment: more than half of the people who buy fitness trackers, stop using them. For one third of them this cessation of use comes within six months of purchase.
John Jakicic, a physical activity researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, believes that “the vast majority of people who purchase these things probably are fitness people already. The challenge is, how do we build these for people who are not into it, to help them to become more active?˝

Fitness tracker manufacturers are working hard to maintain people’s interests through product launches, new features, the creation of user communities, events and challenges but the fundamental truth remains: getting people to change their behaviour is hard. Really hard.
Let’s be clear, no-one thought that wearable tech was, or is, going to eliminate diabetes and muffin-tops overnight but we were optimistic that it might help. Just like many are optimistic that the continued rise and diversification of mass participation events, the explosion of the athleisurewear category and the sheer numbers of health and fitness bloggers, vloggers and virtual joggers point towards a healthier global BMI. But the challenge remains. We are fatter, less active and more sugar-filled than ever before.

To the brands, organisations and agencies busy in this space, the opportunity and more importantly the need to solve this dilemma is huge and urgent. It is exactly what we’re tackling with Lucozade Sport and its ‘Made to Move’ campaign which, with the help of celebrities and influencers such as Anthony Joshua, is aiming to get one million more people moving by 2020.


To those who crack the code for changing human behaviour, the rewards are infinite. Getting us moving, really moving, for 30-minutes a day, requires collaboration and fresh thinking on a new level – something much closer to a shock than a friendly Fitbit buzz

Kathy Garnett
Planner, Europe