Peloton missed a huge brand opportunity with its sexist ad

Peloton could have focused its Christmas ad on the many ways exercise can improve people’s lives but instead it fell foul of outdated stereotypes and sexism.

Have you heard of Peloton? If you have, it might be because it’s a firm favourite among athletes like Usain Bolt and celebrities including Hugh Jackman. Or maybe it’s because of its valuation – it raised $550m in a fundraising round that values the company at $4bn.

However, if you only became aware of Peloton recently, chances are that is due to its Christmas ad, which has raised its profile for all the wrong reasons after it created a social media storm when it was accused of sexism.

For those that don’t know, Peloton aims to bring gym spin classes to the home. People buy an exercise bike with a tablet attached and can then join spin classes via a monthly subscription.

It’s advertising – and it has quite a big budget, £7m just to launch in the UK – typically features beautiful people sat in ridiculous houses in front of stunning vistas working up a sweat. Ridiculous but relatively harmless (for an idea of what we’re talking about, take a look at this Twitter thread).

It’s latest ad, however, is putting the harmless part to the test. It’s Christmas ad has been accused of portraying a Black Mirror version of the happy housewife.

The ad begins with a perfectly made-up woman, in her perfectly matched pyjamas, with her perfectly behaved daughter, descending the stairs in her sleek modern home to find a Peloton bike waiting for her.

We never see the daughter again (apart from one second as she watches her mother cycle) as the Peloton bike takes over her life. She gets up at 6am to ride “with the dawn” and rides as soon as she gets in from work. All the while vlogging her journey.

Soon we see that these videos are being collated for a tribute to her silent benefactor husband. They sit together as they watch his wife’s emotional tribute to the exercise back (again no daughter in sight).  Its ends with her thanking him, noting: “A year ago I didn’t realise he much this would change me.”

‘We want to build a business and a brand’: Peloton launches £7m ad blitz to bring virtual spin classes to the masses

Much has been written about how the ad is sexist, lacking in diversity and offers a storyline and visuals worthy of Brave New World. It has also, claim some, led to its share price dropping by almost $1bn in a day.

Who said all publicity was good publicity?

The real shame here is that this is such a missed opportunity for Peloton. So far, it’s ads have been vacuous and self-obsessed. It was clearly trying to portray another side to its brand but it got it so wrong.

This ad could have positioned the brand as for the time-strapped health-conscious, showing people a way to fit exercise into their busy lives. There is a glaringly obvious wellness trend that would make perfect sense for the fitness brand to tap into but instead it opted for outdated stereotypes of ‘man buys hot wife exercise bike to make sure she stays hot’.

At £1990 a bike as well as a £39 monthly subscription, Peloton was never going to be accessible enough for the Argos catalogue. But premium doesn’t have to mean out of touch.

Whether it’s the correlation between mental and physical health or the importance of making time for yourself, Peloton failed to show any of the ways  exercise can improve people’s lives.

It could have shown a more realistic version of a mum trying to navigate work and motherhood. In this tweaked ad she could buy herself a Peloton (or her and her husband could decide to invest together) in a bid to get back some of her own time.

We could have watched as she snatches 40 minutes here and there in her week, spending time previously spent running around for others doing something healthy for herself.

Alternatively, we could have watched as a man tries to summon up the courage to go to a spin class each time too nervous to go into an intimidating studio. Instead he gains this confidence at home on his Peloton.

Or shown the timeline of someone who genuinely wants to get fit. Who has perhaps failed again and again at a healthy lifestyle but thanks to the convenience of Peloton manages to achieve their goals. It could have shown how they can now run for a bus, hike with friends, lift a suitcase without help all thanks to this premium exercise bike. Highlighting how getting fit can drastically improve your life beyond weight loss.

But instead, it went for a modern-day retelling of a campaign straight from the 1940’s playbook. A grateful wife and a silent, rich husband who are not only totally out of step with modern society but also monumentally boring.

This is not just about the hit the brand will take after this, either. Time and again, studies and companies’ own experience have proved that more diverse ads make more money, but now it seems that poor ads can also have a financial impact.

It would be easy to dismiss the furore as a politically correct backlash confined to a social media bubble but more and more we are seeing that’s not the case. This has a real world impact.

It’s a shame Peloton didn’t think of any of this before it released its Christmas ad. The truth is it is not the most offensive ad of the decade – or even the year. But its unimaginative pandering to outdated stereotypes is out of place in modern society. And it seems shareholders and investors are finally waking up to this fact too.