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Peloton Ad Gets Everyone Talking – For the Wrong Reasons

December 9th, 2019   ||    by Brooke Phillips

It’s happened again. Another brand – in this case, Peloton – has engendered a wave of public attention and ridicule from their latest ad.

This time doesn’t appear to be a case of “all publicity is good publicity,” as Peloton’s stock fell by about 9 percent a day after the ad fallout exploded online and on Twitter, in spectacular fashion.

For a brief moment one may have wondered if the tone-deaf ad was created, (presumably) approved, and launched with the very intention of stirring up strong emotions and thereby consumer attention. If so, then mission accomplished. But then, after about a day of leading the business news, and endless Peloton-inspired parodies and take-downs on social media, the company finally released a statement that said, “…we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial…”

What Got Everyone So Riled Up Anyway?

So, um, what did they maybe “misinterpret”?

The ad, officially titled “The Gift That Gives Back,” shows a young mom getting a new Peloton on Christmas morning, from her husband/partner. They live in a nice, airy modern type home. The mom, who is already quite fit looking, embarks on a year-long video diary of her Peloton journey. There she is, riding after her long day at the office; waking up at 6 am to ride her Peloton, even riding five whole days in a row. Through the change of seasons glimpsed out the window, she rides and rides. We get it! She loves her new Peloton, darn it.

And at the end of it all, while watching a year’s worth of working out video montages, she claims to her benevolent gift-giver…err, husband/partner: “I didn’t realize how much this would change me.” Cringey or not? Maybe that just depends on your mood. Or, perhaps it depends on whether or not you’re in the market for a Peloton, starting at around $2,245.

Either way, this particular ad – which actually launched in early November – has created a backlash, with most critics pointing out the ad’s general air of privilege, and to some, sexist tones, e.g. “Merry Christmas, honey – time to get your butt in shape!” Not to mention, that despite her claim that the bike “changed” her, there is no discernible difference in her physical appearance. She is as attractive and fit before Peloton and after a year of riding her Peloton bike, she remains so. Maybe she had some sort a spiritual breakthrough??

Or, maybe how we react to this ad says more about us, than the creators ever intended.  We bring to it our own “misinterpretations,” if you will. That’s seems to be the approach the Peloton team is taking in their reaction to the public backlash. Instead of acknowledging a possible messaging and creative misfire, or miscalculation of current societal mores around body image (women in particular), gender roles, class, you name it – the brand stands by their ad.

And another brand has already stepped in to capitalize somewhat on the overall Peloton controversy. This new ad, courtesy of actor Ryan Reynolds’ brand of liquor, Aviation Gin, offers the actress from the Peloton ad a chance to show she’s moving on to “new beginnings.” Wink wink.

In Good Company – Other Ads Relegated to the Dustbin of Mistakes­

Many other brands have faced similar public backlash after the launch of a new ad campaign. Remember Pepsi and the Kendall Jenner ad from 2017? Ouch. That backlash was arguably worse than this current snafu and tied to very real and serious social upheaval issues around the Black Lives movement and protests. Pepsi removed the ad from circulation and then…actually issued an apology.

Some ads are so tone deaf or just plain weird you wonder how they ever made it out of the creative director’s office. Pelton is in good company in this area – Cheetos Lip Balm, anyone?

No, didn’t think so.

Google Glass, Nivea, Gap Kids, and numerous luxury fashion brands have all made similar mistakes.

Peloton can take comfort (their reputed 8.1 billion valuation doesn’t hurt), that their moment in the hot seat will surely pass – and that before long another ad misfire will come along to get everyone riled up.


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