A Tale of Two Pelotons

| By Eric Gunzenhauser

A little over a year ago, Peloton ran “the ad.” Most people know what you mean when you mention it — the ad where a wife receives an exercise bike for Christmas from her husband and keeps a video diary (aka cry for help) of her efforts, looking a bit afraid and nervous despite already appearing to be in great shape. Most people also know the heat that Peloton took in the press, social media and the stock market.

Now, a year later, Peloton is running a new set of commercials and short videos that tell a completely different story. In fact, the ads tell several stories from the perspectives of actual users that show what being part of the Peloton community is all about.

And the contrast from where the brand was around the time of “the ad’s” original airing in 2019 is stunning.

Even before the 2019 holiday season, Peloton was criticized for ads featuring their product being used by incredibly fit people in penthouse apartments with spectacular views. While the brand may have considered these depictions aspirational, it came off as setting unrealistic expectations for fitness (and appearance).

“The ad” itself is a study in how to completely miss the mark from start to finish. Watching it again recently, I just couldn’t help but get this creepy vibe that the unseen husband is at the very least a looming, demanding presence in this poor woman’s life. Now, before you cry “cancel culture,” watch the spot. The woman looks scared, to the point that the actress who played her tried to explain that her facial expressions gave the wrong impression. It sounded a little like she was trying to say it was her fault, which just made the whole thing even sadder.

The reaction was so bad that Ryan Reynolds quickly recruited the actress, Monica Ruiz, to appear in an Aviation Gin ad, where she was comforted by two friends and plenty of martinis. Intentionally left unsaid was whether she was playing herself this time, or if she was still in character.

In the wake of “the ad,” Peloton’s stock sank from the mid-30s to somewhere around 17 at the beginning of the pandemic. Eventually, Peloton changed their approach, depicting a more diverse range of users in more realistic settings. These were still scripted and contrived, but at least they started to push the brand to a more meaningful place.

Jump ahead to Thanksgiving weekend, 2020, and the new spots show what appear to be real members of the Peloton community from different walks of life. We hear about the reasons they started riding and the communities they have found within the brand’s subscription-based live workout sessions. We find out how it makes them feel. We see how the product fits into their lives and their tiny, often crowded apartments. And we hear from them individually. They are not uber-fit models. They look like me and like you. Far from the standard testimonials, they are well shot, subtle and interesting.

Of particular note is that the pandemic is never mentioned. Instead, the peek we get into members’ lives allows us to see how they are coping, helping to position Peloton as a personally rewarding part of everyday life. Also worth mentioning is the music used throughout the spots — Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” that I hope is partly Peloton taking a light jab at themselves. The track gives the spots lightness and pace, helping make the brand more approachable and attainable.

Admittedly, the company’s rebound probably has more to do with the pandemic shutting down gyms around the world. While Peloton has certainly benefited from the rising tide of home exercise equipment sales, they’ve spent their time well. While watching their stock price take off, they have obviously been using that time to talk with and learn something from their members.

The spots put Peloton in a place that not many fitness equipment brands find themselves: a believable, compelling place.

Where they go from here? Who knows? Other fitness brands have developed their own bike and online training subscriptions options. And Peloton itself is finding it hard lately to keep up with demand. Which is a bummer if you were planning to buy your spouse a Peloton for Christmas. But you know what? Maybe it’s better that you don’t. Instead, as the stories in Peloton’s latest ads seem to convey, buy it for you.


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