Peloton Holiday Commercial: Tone-Deaf, Target Focused, or Both?

Peloton Holiday Commercial: Tone-Deaf, Target Focused, or Both?

It’s been a tough week for Peloton. As a bike owner and ardent enthusiast, which I’ve written about previously, it’s painful to see the flack that they are taking over a poorly executed commercial.

As a quick recap, the ad shows an affluent, Caucasian family on Christmas morning in their upmarket suburban house, opening with the husband surprising his wife with the Peloton bike. We follow her documenting her first, fifth, and 50th rides, with the spot closing next Christmas as she shows the video journal to her husband and says thank you.

The ad has received numerous criticisms but most notably for being sexist, with many claiming it is “perhaps the most tone-deaf ad made in decades.”

On the face of it, yes, for some being gifted a piece of fitness equipment is akin to say receiving a vacuum cleaner. Others feel there is a deeper issue of a husband being critical of his wife’s appearance and gifts the bike as a way to help her transform.

In addition to the traditional and social media commentary, several parodies have emerged in response to the commercial, including one that has received nearly 4 million views, 31,000 retweets, and almost 200,000 likes on Twitter in just three days.

Targeting the Primary Decision-Maker

Numerous comments on the Official Peloton Facebook page, which has over 200,000 members, are from wives/girlfriends/partners detailing their story of being gifted a Peloton by their other half. Important to note – this is to their absolute delight. (In fairness, I guess we don’t hear about the ones saying you imbecile, I want a divorce.)

Taking a step back, that husbands are likely to be the primary decision-maker on the purchase likely reflects an economic reality. In the absence of equal pay and a fully supportive infrastructure that sees women continue to advance their careers while birthing and raising children, it is still common for men to be the breadwinners. They are the ones to have the final say on what is, at over $2,000, a substantial purchase. With the ad’s narrative, it appears that Peloton is directly targeting their primary buyer. (Although that doesn’t make it any more palatable).

The Real Peloton Community

Another criticism is around the yearlong journey – a slim woman becoming slimmer. @ClueHeywood tweeted: “…The newest commercial about the vlogging 116 lb woman’s yearlong fitness journey to becoming a 112 lb woman who says ‘I didn’t realize how much this would change me’ is just ri-god-damn-diculous. Come on.”

Again, being part of the official and various sub-communities, I know first-hand that few ride to simply shed a few pounds. As the billboard from the Why We Rise mental health campaign says, ‘everyone is going through something,’ and this is true for many Peloton owners. Many use it to manage the stresses of everyday life – juggling work, family, finances, relationships, and everything else that makes up our modern lifestyle. There are also countless heartfelt stories covering life’s full spectrum – death, divorce, chronic disease, life-threatening illness, depression, anxiety, to name just a few.

People are also there, of course, for their physical fitness. This again covers the full spectrum, ranging from life-saving weight reduction and increased mobility to amateur and professional athletes training for marathons, bike races, and Iron Man events.

The Peloton instructors also reflect this type of diversity. Yes, they are all fitness instructors but they also all come from different perspectives and shapes and sizes. Take, for example, instructor Christine D’Ercole who is a gold medal competitive athlete yet has struggled with body image throughout her life. She vocally spreads the message that “we are worth so much more than a smaller pair of pants.”

The Bottom Line

Given the diverse and passionate community that Peloton has established, how did they make such a misstep with this commercial? My sense is that they were trying to roll up the many community stories into a packaged ad that targeted their primary decision-maker (it’s holiday season and the time to make as many sales as possible), and the result didn’t translate.

It lost the authenticity of the real Peloton community. It missed the essence of what makes the bike, the community, and the lifestyle special to its members. Instead, something that can be interpreted as tone-deaf emerged.

I have to wonder if they did any ad testing to see how the message resonated with their target audience. Further, with a brand that has quickly gone from niche to widespread awareness, additional general market testing would also have been advisable. While I believe they understand their current members, it appears they could do with asking more questions of prospective owners. Beyond this, they should also take a deep dive into their future customer base and the audience they want to appeal too as the brand continues to grow. For a brand that prides itself on standing for something, it can’t just focus on the bottom line.

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