2 Takes on the Peloton Ad — Is It Good Marketing?
As you may guess, the exercise bike ad for Peloton’s holiday campaign is nearly universally considered “bad,” but is it bad marketing for the company? I say “yes,” if only for the implied sexism and how that may become synonymous with the brand. But devil’s advocates say the commercial is good for brand awareness and, ultimately, Peloton’s bottom line.
One of the main signs of brand health here is, of course, Peloton’s stock price. Before the infamous “gifting your thin spouse an exercise bike” ad, NASDAQ reflected a six-month low in October of $21. When the ad debuted at the end of November, the stock price had already been ticking up and reached $30 on Black Friday. At the beginning of December, when the ad went viral, the stock peaked at $37. Now that the holiday ad is so controversial, the stock is back down to $31 this morning.
Below the YouTube video “The Gift That Gives Back,” posted on Nov. 21 and boasting 9 million views, 20,000 likes, and 23,000 dislikes as of this morning, Peloton writes:
“This holiday, give your loved ones the opportunity to discover their strength, whenever they want it, all year long. Give them a gift that goes beyond the Holiday season. Give the gift of Peloton.”
But Peloton told CNBC the company was disappointed the commercial was “misinterpreted”:
“We constantly hear from our members how their lives have been meaningfully and positively impacted after purchasing or being gifted a Peloton Bike or Tread, often in ways that surprise them,” a Peloton spokesperson told CNBC. “Our holiday spot was created to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey. While we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial, we are encouraged by — and grateful for — the outpouring of support we’ve received from those who understand what we were trying to communicate.”
Here are the differing viewpoints on whether the ad is good for Peloton.
The Peloton Ad Is Awful...ly Effective
Eliott Maidenberg, who is the managing director of JIN NYC, a global digital agency that specializes in digital influence and public relations, writes:
Peloton’s newest holiday ad is getting backlash, and rightfully so. It is cringy, reflects all the dystopian aspects of our reality (body image issues, white privilege, social media-induced narcissism), and seems to take itself way too seriously, despite looking like an ‘SNL’ skit, from start to finish.
But the reality is that this terrible ad got infinitely more coverage than it deserved. Here’s what happened: The media fell into the trap of giving importance to the opinion of a loud minority, acting like a magnifying glass on the views of the hypersensitive and highly vocal 1%. Most of [the] people who are talking smack about the ad are not in Peloton's target market. Maybe they don't live a lifestyle that is conducive with the picture that Peloton paints, or they simply wouldn’t want to spend over $2,000 on a Peloton bike. By amplifying the controversy so energetically, both the media and brand critics become ironic allies of Peloton's marketing department.
The target audience — largely upper-middle class — may be sensitive to the sexism Peloton has been accused of incorporating into this ad. But those potential new customers will also be seeing Peloton for what it is: a very effective fitness product. This is definitely a case of ‘any PR is good PR,’ because there will definitely be people who haven’t heard of Peloton who will now take an interest in the product and buy it. After all, the commercial led to viral spoofs on Twitter and coverage in nearly every major news outlet. Companies can’t buy this kind of exposure.
Historically, brands almost always bounce back after even the worst advertising and marketing controversies. Remember the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad controversy or Dove’s multiple blunders in 2017? Both brands bounced back from the missteps, despite the extreme initial backlash. While the overall consensus is that the Peloton ad is not well done and that the writing was tone-deaf, people have differing opinions about exactly how politically incorrect it is (or if it is politically incorrect, at all).
This is problematic, because it gives an incentive to other brands targeting the elite to come up with more poor ads to create more backlash and get undeserving, free coverage. If you're really triggered by a poor ad that isn’t blatantly harmful or offensive to you or anyone around you, the best option is to do the same as with the untriggering ones: Ignore it.
Here's My Take
As I included in the 2020 trends roundup published last week:
Even though I’m female and a gym rat, I may not be the target audience for Peloton. That’s OK. But the overall takeaway here is don’t hire people who will just agree with you, go along with whatever you want, and come from the same background (and gender?) as you do. Hire marketers who understand your target audience. Because it doesn’t appear as though Peloton did so. The marketer of the indoor exercise bike with live streaming fitness classes is getting major blowback about its commercial with a thin woman gifted a Peloton by … her spouse? (I thought he was some first-degree male relative who must not have lived with her. Because she took video of herself, even in bed. That would have to be an oblivious spouse to not know she was doing so.)
Markets Insider wrote this on Dec. 6:
“Peloton's stock plunged 15% in three days this week, wiping more than $1.5 billion from its market capitalization.
“The connected-fitness startup is weathering a social-media backlash over a recent holiday advertisement. ‘The Gift That Gives Back’ features a young woman receiving a Peloton bike for Christmas and then filming herself exercising on it over the next year.
“The ad, which has racked up more than 4 million views and 15,000 dislikes on YouTube, has been widely panned as sexist, tone-deaf, and dystopian.”
It even spurred a parody video that went viral (NSFW):
when my husband gets me a Peleton for Christmas ........ pic.twitter.com/Z2d3ewMhPu
— Eva Victor (@evaandheriud) December 2, 2019
And now from Ryan Reynolds:
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.
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