Exercise bike maker Peloton was caught off-guard this week by overwhelmingly negative reaction to a new TV spot.
The ad, titled “The Gift That Gives Back,” begins when a woman receives a Peloton from her husband as a holiday gift. The remainder of the spot shows her working out on the bike, describing her new, disciplined exercise regimen, and coming to the verge of tears as she thanks her spouse for the gift, declaring, “I didn’t realize how much this would change me.” Watch it, above.
Peloton positions its product as a path to self-improvement and fitness. It clearly didn’t expect viewers to see a woman being bullied or shamed into a new workout routine. But that’s how it played across many parts of the Internet, from the snark farms of Twitter to mainstream news publications like The Washington Post (“This Peloton ad is a dystopian fitness inspo hellscape”) and USA Today (“Someone please help the woman from Peloton’s awful new ad”). Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee it: the woman really does seem to be acting out a fitness regime imposed on her by her husband. The optics get even worse when she screens footage of her workouts on a large TV for his entertainment and approval. (Talk about the male gaze.)
— Honorable Rod Shaw (@aswadrodz) December 3, 2019
The company noted the dissent and issued a classic non-apology. According to CNBC, it read in part, “We’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial,” and cited positive feedback “from those who understand what we were trying to communicate.” In other words, if you find the ad creepy or sexist, the problem is with you, not with the utterly blameless team at Peloton.
when my husband gets me a Peleton for Christmas …….. pic.twitter.com/Z2d3ewMhPu
— Eva Victor (@evaandheriud) December 2, 2019
It’s often said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and the spot has racked up more than 2.3 million views on YouTube at this writing. That’s an awful lot of people who have now been exposed to the idea of a Peloton as a holiday gift, and only a relatively small portion of them proceeded to viciously mock the ad on the Internet. Someone at the company is no doubt trying to declare this a big marketing win based solely on the scale of the controversy.
But consider also that the ad has generated just 2,900 thumbs-up ratings on YouTube, compared to a striking 11,000 thumbs-downs. Further, Peloton was rattled enough by the feedback that it turned off comments on the ad. When does negative public sentiment start doing real harm to a company?
Twitter dunked Peloton over a dumb ad so hard that the stock dropped 10%https://t.co/0aGxVYvRxj
— Claire Boston (@claireeboston) December 3, 2019
The company’s stock price tells the story pretty well — on Monday, before the ad went viral, Peloton’s stock had climbed to a record high of $36.84. Since then, the price has tumbled into the $32-$33 range. As AdAge put it, “The woman in the spot keeps her weight in check, but the stationary-bike maker loses 10 percent in market cap.”
Peloton may not suffer much in the long term, but you’ve got to think company executives would like to turn the clock back a few weeks and get a re-do on this particular campaign.
At the very least, they might want to take another stab at an apology.