Peloton: When the Perfect Gift Sends the Wrong Message

Why understanding your brand, your audience – and your blind spots – is important.


What you missed…

Peloton is getting the cold shoulder this winter and it all started with a simple 30-second commercial. Peloton received immediate concerns and criticisms on their holiday ad due to their choice of representation for the ‘typical peloton rider’. Audiences critiqued that the main character fits the stereotype of a Peloton rider a little too well: She is a white, young, female, who is already fit. Critics complain, “she is already thin” and doesn’t need a Peloton to get in shape. Not to mention, her husband was the gift-giver, suggesting the man was guilty of having certain expectations of his wife’s appearance. If you haven’t seen it yet- take a look!

So, what’s the big deal?

 Peloton utilized their target audience to create an ideal consumer for their brand – common practice, but this time it feels limited and shortsighted, shaping their brand and its message in a negative way for many consumers. Peloton assumed they were reaching their target audience with their spunky, fit, middle-class consumer. Instead, they missed a huge blind spot, and subsequently a huge opportunity to reach new customers and expand their brand to new audiences.

To learn more about brand awareness, check out these 15 strategies for building your brand.

Peloton’s response:

Peloton responded to criticism – the first must after an encounter with consumer criticism and media backlash – and explained their disappointment in the “misunderstanding” of the ad. They leaned on the support shown from their fellow Peloton riders, and the ad was supposed to be perceived as a fitness journey in which everyone can participate. This caused few to have a change of heart.

 Why you should care…

 Peloton’s holiday stumble gives us a couple of important lessons when considering external promotion of a brand:

  1. Sometimes customer segmentation can backfire. Peloton undoubtedly has dedicated a large budget to understanding their target customer, their needs and desires in order to create messages that resonate. However, it seems as if their segmentation may have been too niche, leaving potential audiences in the dust. When segmenting audiences, it’s important to be aware of not only who’s currently buying, but who could be in the future, and craft your creative accordingly. Ignoring key demographics and user groups in your message backs your brand into a corner and leaves potential revenue on the table for a competitor to grab.
  2. Your brand’s response is important. Rather than lean into what the company could learn from the feedback, and how it planned to change its focus to address, Peloton gave a not-so-savvy “we’re sorry if you’re upset” response. Turning it back on consumers and their inability to understand the goal of your message not only tends to light an even greater fire under those offended, but also positions your brand as unresponsive and self-serving. A little humility goes a long way.

Recently, Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin capitalized on Peloton’s bad press to turn one brand’s mistake into their own good fortune. In Aviation’s new holiday ad, our stereotypical Peloton rider drowns her sorrows with a few Aviation gin martinis, as her friends comfort her. This ad presents a very different dynamic than how she is portrayed in Peloton’s ad, drawing the attention of many. It shifts her from an enthusiastic, grateful wife (albeit a bit one-dimensional), to one who is shocked at the fact that her husband got her exercise equipment for Christmas. Even if it was incredibly expensive exercise equipment. If you haven’t seen it yet – you need to.

Though Peloton’s ad fell flat and garnered an overwhelming amount of unpopular opinions, Aviation Gin gained a lot of positive press and attention around a key purchasing time by creatively representing what most viewers were feeling: what would this woman be feeling if her husband bought her exercise equipment? Aviation turned this spot very quickly to capitalize on buzz in real-time, expanding their reach and showing its personality.

Have thoughts on Peloton’s ad, or how Aviation used this media moment to generate its own buzz? We’d love to hear from you!