IENGLISH LISTENING: Gym advert (Upper Intermediate)

Gym advert

DESCRIPTION: A advert for a gym in Ireland caused offence by saying “the aliens are coming, and they’re going to take the fat people first.” A woman who was upset about the ad confronts the boss of the gym company, and other listeners to the radio show call in and give their opinion.

Internalise = absorb, make an idea part of your own thinking
Tongue-in-cheek = intended to be understood as a joke
Catch-22 situation = a dilemma with no easy solution


Where did Sarah see the ad?

The advert told people to "be a _______________"

What did Sarah NOT mention needing because of bullying over her weight?

The gym company director said that the ad was supposed to be:

Sarah thinks the ad is designed to scare and upset people

The gym company director admits trying to be controversial in the ad.

What does James say is more important that going to the gym?





Joe: Let me bring in Sarah Tyrell, Sarah where did this… was this a leaflet or an ad that you came across?

Sarah: This was an image that I saw on their facebook page.

Joe: Okay, here we go. What did you see? It’s from a gym.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s from Energy Fitness Group and they have an image on their Facebook and I think it’s on their Twitter as well, and it basically says “the aliens are coming and they’re coming…. They’re going to take the fat ones first. Be a superhero. Save your community. Invest in fitness.”

Joe: So when they arrive, they’ll take the fat ones first. Why did you… Why did you in particular take offence?

Sarah: Oh because I’m a fat person and because I’m a body-positive activist. I have a blog and I’m very passionate about everything related to fat shaming and body shaming.

Joe: Okay, so elucidate on why this is particularly awful in your view, and indeed in a lot of other people’s view. But go ahead.

Sarah: Well, it’s normalising fat shaming. You know, it’s saying that it’s okay to mock and humiliate fat people in a public forum. And it’s okay for companies and people in power to encourage that kind of mockery. It’s saying that fat people aren’t as deserving of basic respect, just because they’re fat. And that they can be the butt of a public joke. And it’s not okay! That’s not acceptable!

Joe: And when they say “they are coming,” who’s ‘they’?

Sarah: I don’t know. I don’t know. I assumed it meant aliens. I don’t know, I didn’t really focus on that bit.

Joe: So they’re coming to get you and when they arrive they’ll take the fat ones first.

Sarah: Yeah, so em,

Joe: So, and do you find this, Sarah, do you find it offensive? Is it hurtful? Is it upsetting?

Sarah: Oh it’s very hurtful! It’s extremely hurtful! I, my whole life, I’ve been bullied because of my weight. I’ve been on antidepressants, I’ve had to go to counselling, I’ve had serious mental health problems – suicidal thoughts – and I’m not saying that’s all down to being bullied but what I am saying is that companies like energy fitness need to take responsibility for the effect that their words have on countless people who see those messages and that they can’t just continue to wash their hands of any impact that those words have on people with mental health because it’s complete nonsense. You know, people see these things and they internalise them. They might not even realise they’re doing it, but they do. And we’ve a huge mental health crisis in our country right now, and it’s all connected.

Joe: David Miller is Energy Fitness Ireland’s Operations Director. David, good afternoon.

David: Hello Joe, how are you?

Joe: Good thanks. What would you like to say to Sarah?

David: Well, first of all I’d like to apologise for any offence that’s been taken by the ad. The intention was never to offend anybody. We used this ad in a number of different countries to positive effect, really. And the mantra of our company is about empowering people to transform their lives and we stand by that as we use our marketing collateral and create images, and create words around what it is that we do. So again, just to apologise if offence was taken. It was never meant that way. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look I guess, at attracting people into the fitness forum. And when you look traditionally at adverts that are put out there seasonally and monthly to try and attract people to fitness clubs, to help them feel empowered, or be well, or get well – there’s always been a seriousness about it. We felt that the industry as a whole has kind of nearly taken itself too seriously. It promotes these bodies in its advertisements that are not always achievable. So we wanted to bring some humour to the whole aspect of advertising fitness clubs, and gyms, and the industry in general.

Joe: And what does it mean, “they’re coming,” and “when they arrive they’ll take the fat ones first?”

David: Well, I mean, it’s just trying to provoke a bit of humour….

Joe: Yeah but what’s… it’s a play on something, what is it a play on? Maybe… am I missing…. Is it a movie?

David: It’s a very very old advert. It originated, I believe, in the 1960s. A UK fitness club company promoted in a ………. similar manner their club and trying to attract members into their club. You might remember last year we had a different advertising campaign, it was called big scary gym, and it was a similar type of idea. It was about democratising fitness for everybody, and that really is what we try and promote.

Joe: But in your ‘big scary gym’ ad did you finger or identify a particular type of person?

David: I don’t believe so. I believe the message is about democratising fitness. And the message is about “fitness clubs are for everybody.” And they really are a place that everybody needs or is allowed to feel comfortable in. And it’s not just for these glamourous…..

Joe: Okay, Sarah, if offence was taken, apologies…

Sarah: Yeah, I kind of find it laughable because, I mean I don’t know how offence could not be taken. I assume David is a very intelligent guy because he’s very successful. There’s absolutely no way that anybody can convince me that anybody involved in this ad, or any other ads like it, ever believed that this might not cause offence. It’s designed to cause offence. It’s not designed to empower, it’s designed to frighten people. That’s what it is. Because in our society, fat is the worst thing that you can be. So let’s point that out to people and frighten them into joining our gym.

David: Sarah, the intention was to design it to start a conversation, and to make sure, I guess, that our whole industry could get involved in the conversation. And not just people within the industry, but people who haven’t yet been attracted into fitness clubs or gyms. We could start conversations and…

Sarah: But how could this ad possibly attract me as a fat person? Like, you’ve done the complete opposite! If I ever decide to part with my money and give it to a gym or fitness club, there is no way I would EVER consider investing it in one of your gyms now. I don’t understand how you ever thought that that strategy would work.



Joe: James, good afternoon.

James: How are you, Joe?

Joe: Good…. Go ahead there

James: I am yeah. The discussion here about people losing weight by going to the gym isn’t exactly true, because if you eat more calories than what you burn in the gym, then you’re still going to put on weight anyway. If you go to the gym and burn a thousand calories, and come home and burn 400 calories, you’re still going to put on weight.

Joe: Well, this was an ad for a gym.

James: Yeah, well I’m just listening to the discussion about people being heavy and going to the gym to lose weight and it’s not really true, you know? It’s all about nutrition, the gym doesn’t matter. So that’s my point that I was going to….

Joe: Okay and you’re a personal trainer. But the man who owns this gym and put up this ad saying “they’re coming to get you, and they’re going to take the fat ones first”

James: I must’ve missed that part

Joe: And then said “join our gym,” you don’t think that’s a good for a gym, do you?

James: It’s not, no. It’s a bit mean really, you know. But er……. (inaudible)…… it’s all about nutrition Joe, you know? If you want to lose weight, stop eating! And eat properly, and you’ll lose weight. Just burn a few calories by walking, you don’t need to go to the gym. So yer man with his bad ad, he won’t even have people going to his gym who are educated, you know?

Joe: And give me the, give me the…. He said I’m trying to get people who have weight issues, or serious weight issues obviously, to come to the gym.

James: Well, he’s not going to get them with an ad like that, is he?

Joe: And do you get them?

James: Well, I mean, I meet clients in their own home. We go out walking, Joe. We can use the park if it’s a nice day.

Joe: And what do you say to people who have chronic difficulties with their weight and are so fed up, and see it’s… they’re pushing the boulder up the hill and it rolls back down. You know what I mean? There’s almost a Catch 22.

James: It is a Catch 22 but look, you have to be sympathetic to these people, you know? The big thing is sugar in our diet, you know? Everything contains sugar – sauces, everything. So the thing is, try and get the diet on track. If the diet’s on track, you have some chance. But if the person is training and training and training, and they’re still eating loads of Mars bars, and pizzas, and pasta, white bread, they’re still going to put on weight, you know? So you have to, you have to work with them and you have to be sympathetic, you know? Because people have food addictions. It’s not just lack of exercise, it’s an addiction to sugar and food like that, you know?

Joe: Okay, just listen to Pat for a sec. Pat, good afternoon.

Pat: Hi Joe.

Joe: Your quick point please.

Pat: Yeah, more or less agree with that man there. I wouldn’t dismiss the exercise though. I prefer outdoors myself to the gym. But his ad is completely out of place in, as you said, in today’s society. That might have worked in the 60s, but people are fat, to use that expression, it could be to do with health issues and drugs they’re on, or any addictions, you know?

Joe: Okay

Pat: So you have to be careful making comments. You praise somebody if they’re losing weight. I think people take that as a positive. But you have to be tactful.

Joe: I take your point. Now Patricia, I know you mentioned you’re involved in, is it a beauty parlour you mentioned? Yeah

Patricia: Yeah

Joe: And they’re agreeing with you because you found the advert offensive as well and they said “I’m sure Patricia wouldn’t even considering putting up a sign saying “uglies go half price on Wednesday.” The way this man is…..

Patricia: Absolutely not! Oh my God. No, no. You praise people