A holiday ad for a stationary bike has spun up a lot of online attention, including by critics who say the ad evokes a dystopian nightmare more than a Christmas dream.
The Peloton commercial centers on a young, fit-looking woman who receives a $2,245 interactive spin bike from an unidentified man. Surprised by the gift, the woman captures her daily rides on selfie videos. After a few vignettes of her quippy videos, the ad reveals a year has passed since she received the gift, as the woman sitting alongside her partner says, “I didn’t realize how much this would change me.”
Alex Abad-Santos, writing for Vox, dryly notes, “The couple smile at the ‘changes’ the Peloton has brought them. The Peloton looms in their open-plan dining room.” Tai Bachman’s 1999 hit “She’s So High” plays for the entire 30-second commercial.
“The response to the ad might not be what Peloton was hoping for,” Abad-Santos adds, “considering many people are pointing out that the way the Peloton is presented feels more like a threat than a gift.” His story includes a tweet that pans the ad. “Nothing says ‘maybe you should lose a few pounds’ like gifting your already rail-thin life partner a Peloton.” Peloton hasn’t offered any response to online criticism of its ad.
Other critical tweets noted by the “Today Show” included:
- “Sorry to shake things up, but I’m excited to announce I’m throwing my hat in the ring and joining the presidential race and running on the single issue platform to jail everyone involved in the pitching, scripting, acting, shooting, and approval of the Peloton ad.”
- “A peloton ad where the husband gives his wife a peleton and she sells it and has $2,000.”
- “I’m gonna marry the Peloton wife and let her do whatever she wants and bake her garlic bread every night and give her scarves for Christmas.”
- “I really thought Christmas music before Christmas was the worst, then I saw a Peloton ad.
People who exercise regularly on stationary bikes at gyms would relish having a Peloton, with its range of live spin classes and personalized settings, just a few steps away from their bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. I know I would.
The problem here isn’t the product, but the undertone of the ad. A man buys a woman a stationary bike with an implied expectation she will use it to get more fit. There is no reference to the man using the Peloton or that the gift is in response to her request.
“Change” is a theme Peloton strikes in marketing its high-profile stationary bikes top avid riders and nervous newcomers. It’s a good theme. However, this ad overlays a good theme atop an old trope – a man telling a woman to shape up. No doubt this was unintended, but it is nonetheless part of the ad’s basic architecture.
Focus groups would have sussed out this underlying problem, allowing the ad to be tweaked and turned into something gleeful, not dreadful.
In the creative world, audience reactions are sometimes dismissed. Creatives chafe at negative responses, sometimes accusing intended audiences of missing the point. But here’s the real point: The objective of advertising is to resonate with, not repulse intended audiences. No matter how clever an ad may be, if it fails to resonate, it fails.
“The gift that gives back” is a snappy, memorable line. Too bad that line wasn’t written on a post-it note stuck to the refrigerator door asking for a stationary bike for Christmas. Then the bike would have felt more like a Christmas present that was a dream come true.
Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm’s PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.