The Peloton bike #adfail plus the Aviation Gin #fastvertising response

Peloton had a bad week

The internet world has not been kind to the Peloton exercise bike this past week. Social media mockery of an ad intended to drive Christmas sales, resulted in their stock price dropping 10%. Peloton is a high-end exercise bike that streams indoor cycling classes to your home by live on demand viewing. Priced at close to $3,000 Canadian, it is aimed firmly at an affluent demographic, many of them in executive or successful entrepreneurial roles, who are busy and want the boutique fitness experience on demand in their own home.

But the ad has been dismissed by some as sexist and out of touch. In case you haven’t seen it, it features an already slim and fit woman being gifted the Peloton for Christmas from her husband. She proceeds to selfie stick document her work outs though out the year, and plays the compilation video to her husband from the couch the following Christmas, then thanking him for the gift. View it HERE.

If it was all about fitness and health, it might have escaped scrutiny, except for the implication that she “needed to please” her husband that badly. But framed from a largely over weight American society, that was quick to observe her initial body as perfect, and where the #metoo movement documenting abusive controlling relationships involving women is very real, the whole thing exploded.

Two words explain how the ad got through: Troubled relationships

Ad agency & client
I suspect there were relationship issues between the ad agency and the client. At the very least, it was likely strained. And let’s face it, it’s now probably OVER. The agency wanted to please the client, and in an industry suffering disruption and decline, let it happen for fear of losing the business. The client not respecting the creative process and advice that this might be interpreted incorrectly, pushed forward.

Husband & wife
This ad normalizes a possible troubled relationship between a husband and wife. The wife eager to please, self-documenting with obvious insecurities, and the audacity of the guy to suggest it’s OK to give a gift to “fix her” in some way. Not everyone will view it this way of course, but many did. Then there’s the fact that she’s already slim and fit in the first place.

Who we have become
And finally, this ad tosses the mirror in full selfie frontal view, to reveal the troubled self esteem relationship many have with themselves, in the pursuit of self-image perfection. This trend has been normalized through social media sharing and judgement.

I suspect the ad initially was placed in media that tightly targeted the segmented audience of well-off executives, exercising for fitness and seeking the boutique coached workout in their own homes. But it then found its way through social sharing online, into other segments who viewed the impossible perfection and perceived manipulative nature of the relationship shown in the creative as toxic. The whole thing was then flamed by earned media publicity as the mockery gained steam online, and a new group of viewers are now sharing their thoughts in a second damaging wave of negative publicity.

Enter Aviation Gin & with a “fastvertising” news jack

But this story is also quickly evolving in other ways. On Friday Aviation Gin put out an ad, featuring the same actress as the wife in the Peloton segment, now in recovery mode having drinks with girlfriends. She sits in a state of shock at the bar, surrounded by two friends, clearly there to offer emotional support. One notes that she is now in a “safe place.” It’s pretty remarkable, because it instantly moves past novelty, and plugs into the emotional triggers that caused the original uproar, all the while shifting the conversation from Peloton to Aviation gin, in a positive spin. One small detail worth noting, that I only picked up on after watching it twice, was the clever hiding of the wife’s left hand throughout, only to be revealed at the very end as she accepts her second drink from one friend. That left hand has no ring. We can assume she has left the Peloton husband! Aviation is billing it as a “sequel ad”, but the messaging is pretty clearly in response to market sentiment.

Watch it HERE. It’s a classic “news-jacking” move, where a brand jumps on a story that is hot and widely shared, and inserts themselves into the conversation in a positive way. Not to mention, taking over the #hashtags associated with Peloton in the process. The spot is masterclass storytelling and represents a new genre of fast advertising. Perhaps we should call it “fastvertising” – being able to respond to cultural events immediately to commandeer the conversation. The Aviation ad is already earning a ton of media publicity, which will no doubt further fan the wave of people searching it out and sharing it on line.

Enter SNL (Saturday Night Live)

As if this story needed even more publicity, the crew at Saturday Night Live got in on the action during a cold opening for the show this past weekend, featuring a comedy spoof centered around NATO leaders Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Jimmy Fallon), French President Emmanuel Macron (Paul Rudd) and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson (James Corden) making fun of President Trump (Alec Baldwin).

But suddenly the actors froze and the scene went to a “commercial break” featuring First Lady Melania Trump’s public-awareness project, which takes on, among other things, bullying. “Hello, I’m Melania Trump,” she says, popping up out of nowhere near the end of the segment. “Bullying is a serious problem—especially against President Trump. It’s not nice. He would never do it to you. So please, European leaders: Be Best!”

And then there was the BOOM moment: “And also, I’d like to tell you about Peloton,” the faux First Lady continues. “Are you scared woman who’s trapped inside a mansion? Why not imagine biking away from it all—on Peloton. Merry Christmas to me.”

Could there be more fastvertising coming?

Stay tuned, this story may not be over yet though. The Peleton husband actor was apparently spotted in a Peleton store on LA on the weekend. Nothing particularly noteworthy about that other than he is a school teacher from Canada, and would have been ‘down for the weekend’ otherwise. I wonder how or if he could be leveraged? He is apparently from Vancouver, my home town, and is quite distressed over how this is all playing out, and if it will impact his acting career. He has started giving some media interviews about it. So far the CEO of Peloton has been completely silent, including not one mention of the ad misstep during a press conference on Mon, Dec 9th.

There are some news organizations that have suggested this was all a publicity stunt by Peloton to get coverage. I think not. No CEO would expose their brand to this kind of negative publicity deliberately. And I believe Ryan Reynolds, the agency for Aviation Gin, was just quick on their feet in response, recognizing an opportunity.

Quite simply Peloton made a mistake, and now they’re paying for it through lost sales and a devalued stock price. It’s unfortunate. This actually looks like a really cool bike and concept!

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Although I posted the first portion of this as an article on LinkedIn late last week, this updated version has followed the story to date as of Dec 9, 2019. Is there anything left in the tank for Peloton or Aviation Gin on this one? Will someone else jump on board to carry the story line even further?

Mary Charleson

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