When Arkansas Business asked Little Rock marketing execs about the now-infamous Peloton ad — you know, about a sad-eyed wife’s fitness journey on a luxury stationary bike that was a gift from her husband — the ad men immediately dragged their wives into the conversation.
Not a bad idea, asking a woman, their female colleagues said.
“Was there a woman, or even better, a mom, on the team who produced this ad?” asked Brooke Vines of Vines Media. “Clearly, if a mom had been on the team, this wouldn’t have happened.”
The holiday ad, in which a fit young mother gets a $2,000 exercise bike and blogs about her year of betterment aboard it, drew ridicule for alleged tone deafness, stereotyping and classism. The actress’s nervous-looking words of thanks for the gift didn’t help.
“I thought about answering your query and then I did what every smart male in advertising should do,” said Dan Waymack, the top commercial maker at Waymack & Crew on Main Street. “I asked my wife.”
Whitney Waymack didn’t object to the ad, he said, but the Twitter-fed backlash battered Peloton’s stock price, and CEO John Foley was pilloried for refusing to discuss the uproar. Peloton, which lost $1.5 billion in market capitalization in trading after the ad aired, said only that the company was “disappointed in how some have misinterpreted the ad.”
However, Emily Reeves Dean of Cranford Co. and Chip Culpepper of Mangan Holcomb Partners both said the ad needlessly set off gender and body-imaging alarms. “The fact that the conversation went negative and then viral is not surprising,” said Dean, Cranford’s director of brand and social strategy. “What is surprising is the lack of response from Peloton.”
An alert and witty response did come from Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin, which put the Peloton actress, Monica Ruiz, in a bar flanked by two concerned and supportive female friends.
“It’s a classic case of ‘borrowed interest’ and a pretty fair comedic parody at Peloton’s expense,” said Culpepper, MHP’s chief creative officer. Marketing Land’s headline said the response ad was destined to be “a case study on marketing genius for years to come.”
Vines pretty much agreed.
“Ryan Reynolds’ response wasn’t easy to pull off,” she said. “He had a few days to come up with the concept, write the script, convince the actress to not only be in it but to make fun of a brand she currently represents. They weren’t slowed down by layers of management and rounds of approval. They just got it out there and the timing was as brilliant as the concept.”
Culpepper said Reynolds “has gotten pretty good at that lately.”
Mekanism, the San Francisco creative agency behind Peloton’s “The Gift That Gives Back” ad, should have tested its concept better, Culpepper said. (Though it’s worth noting, too, that much of Peloton’s marketing is considered excellent, and that many women have dismissed the ad backlash as a false issue. Thin people exercise for health and mental advantages far beyond losing weight, they note, and recipients of Peloton bikes as gifts have come out to publicly proclaim those benefits.)
Nevertheless, to many viewers, the Peloton gift was bound to be perceived “about as well as me trying to pass off a new iron or vacuum cleaner as a great anniversary present for my wife,” Culpepper said, dragging Karen Culpepper into the equation.
“I’m left wondering what the focus groups said about the concept before it got rolled out to the audience,” he continued. In this world of social media shaming and piling on, it sure didn’t take long for consensus to build that the ad was off the mark.”
Vines called it a “classic example of a great idea that falls apart on execution. Had it been a true testimonial with a real person who went through a transformation, it may have worked better.” She said a more diverse team at Mekanism might have sidestepped the problem.
“It is critically important to have a diverse creative team. Only 11% of creative directors are women,” she said.
While everybody applauded the Aviation ad, the Waymacks saw it as a fleeting laugh. “We thought the use of her character in the gin ad was interesting and funny,” Dan Waymack said. “But, as my dad says, it was a long road to a small house.”