The recent Peloton Christmas video has certainly misfired for the brand and the story is not going away. From a video marketing agency perspective, there are big lessons to learn here. Read on as I unpick the ad’s messages, look at what went wrong and more importantly reveal how this kind of disaster can be avoided.
Christmas ad goes wrong
Peloton’s Xmas ad clearly had a decent budget and also a half-decent marketing message (with enough commitment you can achieve anything). Yet they take all this and manage to mess it up. “A dystopian future”, “hostage footage” and the “sexist nightmare before Christmas part 2” are not descriptions any brand would want for their festive campaign.
In the video, a man buys his partner an exercise bike for Christmas, and we see her vlogging about her progress (presumably as she loses weight from the perfect figure she started with). It turns out her vlog updates are a thank-you to her partner, which we see them watching together the following year.
How did the brand film go down?
The ad is certainly gaining attention for the brand, but not the right kind of engagement. While compelling content can help your brand equity rise, Peloton’s stock fell as much as 10% last week. On their YouTube channel, the video has attracted 7 million views, but it’s currently got 19,000 thumbs down (a record?) and comments have been disabled.
This content is widely being perceived as sexist. And rightly so, when you think that a man gives his already toned partner a gift to help her lose weight while the aesthetics of the vlog footage deliver connotations of coercion and control. Transformation can be a positive driver but when it’s thanks to a male partner’s gift, it loses the empowering feel. This shouldn’t be news to Peloton and they are lucky not to have fallen foul of ASA’s new rules that stipulate ads “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence.”
The old adage of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” doesn’t even stand here. If Peloton’s research shows that husbands giving gifts to partners is a real target market for them, they have just blown the market out of the water. Who will want to associate themselves with this brand?
Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation American Gin got the tone perfectly right with their subtle but pointed response using the actor from the Peloton ad who has clearly dumped the offending boyfriend.
Why did this happen?
From an agency perspective, one of three things has happened here. One: absolutely no one at the agency or amongst the clients saw anything wrong with this ad and just happily put it out. Two: people in the agency knew there was something wrong but didn’t flag it, or Three: the agency raised flags but Peloton overrode them and pushed ahead anyway. It’s hard to know which of these is worse, but there are lessons for everyone in there.
Understand your audience
I spend most of my time advising marketing teams to understand the emotional drivers for their audience. What is going to press the buttons of the target audience? What will elicit a response? But no one can create brand content in a cultural vacuum. Creatives and strategists must constantly check our work. It’s up to us to challenge misconceptions and challenge prejudice … no matter who the agency or the client. This is certainly true because of what is morally right, but also because getting it wrong can destroy a brand.
If you’re on a brand team, make sure you challenge your agency on its ideas and demand clear explanations for any shorthands or cultural stereotypes. The smallest focus group session (or even just asking a few people in the street) would have saved Peloton a fortune.