Peloton Risks Non-Response Response to Ad Flap

Thom Weidlich 12.12.19


From a crisis-communications point of view, the decision by Peloton, the fancy exercise-bike maker, to basically ignore the brouhaha over its controversial ad is the episode’s most interesting aspect. We rarely see a non-response response — maybe for good reason. The company continues to be stalked by the issue.

The advertisement heard around the world features a woman whose husband gives her a Peloton bike as a Christmas gift (they sell for more than $2,200). The wife, who is by no means out of shape, is then shown filming herself using the equipment over a year, usually in some existential panic. She says she “didn’t realize how much this would change me.”

The spot, entitled “The Gift That Gives Back,” has been viewed more than 8 million times on YouTube. It has been described as sexist or, at the very least, insensitive, even fat shaming (The Washington Post called it “dystopian”). Some said the message should have been about building strength rather than losing weight. In response, Peloton’s stock dropped 9 percent in one day (some say its bad Black Friday performance contributed).

New York-based Peloton issued a statement that did not apologize, let alone announce the promotion would be nixed. “While we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial, we are encouraged by — and grateful for — the outpouring of support we’ve received from those who understand what we were trying to communicate,” it said, without explaining what it was trying to communicate.

Company CEO John Foley spoke at a conference on Mon., Dec. 9, and didn’t mention the flap, not even to make fun of it, according to The New York Times.

‘Radical Move’

But is ignoring the protest the right thing to do? Richard Carufel, editor of marketing publication Bulldog Reporter, called it “a pretty radical move” and asked whether it marks “a new era of crisis response.”

We hope not. We think the move was risky. Yes, it might seem cocky to say “to hell with it,” but many people, especially women, were offended by the ad (some weren’t). Even when a company is in the right (and we’re not saying Peloton is), it’s important to acknowledge people’s emotions.

Peloton has moved on to other worries. Famed short seller Andrew Left released a report Tues., Dec. 10, arguing Peloton, which did its IPO in September at $29, would drop to $5 a share next year (unrelated to the ad). The price went down 6 percent on that news, and Peloton hasn’t fully dealt with it. It closed yesterday at $32.03.

The backlash over the ad got so bad that Monica Ruiz, the actress who played the wife, issued her own statement. “To say I was shocked and overwhelmed by the attention this week (especially the negative) is an understatement,” she wrote.

Perhaps some exercise would help.

Photo Credit: Peloton via YouTube

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