Want your marketing to be more relevant? React faster—and better.

Robin Emiliani  /  Dec 30, 2019

Want your marketing to be more relevant? React faster—and better.

Congratulations to Peloton! They’ve won this holiday season’s award for biggest marketing blunder!

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably already know the story. For Christmas, the company launched an ad featuring a slim woman whose husband gifted her a Peloton exercise bike and subscription to their virtual spin classes. In the video, she documents her fitness journey and wraps up after a year by watching the videos of that journey with her husband and thanking him for the so-called gift that keeps on giving.

At best, the ad is boring and predictable. At worst, sexist and body-shaming.

Some argued that the expressions on the actress’ face made it look like she was trapped in an abusive marriage, making the ad take on a sinister tone. Others pointed out that there was simply no transformation. The actress says Peloton has changed her, but watchers don’t see any change. She starts thin, she stays thin. She starts nervous, she stays nervous. Still, others pointed to the ad’s blatant male gaze. The woman may be the focus of the ad, but the person getting the payoff from all her hard work isn’t her—it’s her husband, who gets to be thanked over and over again for this “transformational” gift.

After the ad, to the surprise of approximately no one except Peloton themselves, the brand watched as its shares tanked 9% in a single day and another 6% the day after, losing them $1.5 billion in value.

I could go on about what makes the ad so cringeworthy—from the weird relationship dynamic to the why-isn’t-this-dead-yet storytelling lens of the male gaze, to the absence of any real transformation in the story itself—but that’s been done and done well elsewhere.

What I want to talk about is the aftermath of this disaster of an ad.

Because within two weeks, something brilliant happened.

Another ad—this time for Aviation Gin—hit the airwaves. In it, the star of the Peloton ad (Monica Ruiz) stares at the camera in a daze. She’s out with two girlfriends, sans wedding ring, and they’re clearly concerned. One tells her she’s safe here. The other tells her she looks great. And after they toast “to new beginnings,” the actress downs her drink in a single gulp.

Looks like Peloton lady gathered up her courage and left her douchey husband for good.

As you might have guessed, the gin ad went viral, racking up over five million views in the last 10 days. Not to mention, an avalanche of press coverage.

And so, a little-known gin brand has become a household name.

All because Ryan Reynolds (yes, the actor, and also the man behind Aviation Gin) saw an opportunity and reacted quicker than most marketers would think possible. He saw the ad. He saw the backlash. And he saw an opportunity to make a humorous statement that made people feel heard.

Within 36 hours of getting the idea, he’d booked the actress, shot the commercial, and launched it into the internet with a tongue-in-cheek tweet: “Exercise bike not included.”

The runaway success of that second ad is a good reminder that, for marketers, sometimes quick reactions can pay off big.

We’ve written a lot about the importance of strategy. But good marketing isn’t just forward-thinking. It’s also nimble. It rolls with the punches. It sees an opportunity and drops everything to take it. It responds to people’s real feelings.

This is not only a huge win for Ryan and Aviation Gin, it’s also a missed opportunity for Peloton itself. In the face of all that backlash, the brand issued a passive-aggressive non-apology and went about its business. What if, instead, they’d made their own reaction video? What if they apologized for real? What if they showed those disappointed viewers that they got it, they heard them?

What if they said, hey, we’re sorry. We get it. Here’s the video we should have made in the first place. And then they gave us a video of a woman buying her own damn exercise bike, documenting her training, and then cycling to the top of a gorgeous mountain with her best girlfriends—the goal she’d been working toward all along.

Peloton’s failure wasn’t just in the original ad. It was also a failure to react—both quickly and well. When they didn’t, Ryan Reynolds and Aviation Gin did. And it’s pretty clear who’s reaping the benefits of that ad’s reach.

In other words, if you don’t pay attention, someone else will.

And if you need a team that gets it? Balancing long-term strategy with nimble execution on today’s opportunities is our jam. Let’s talk.


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