The #1 Lesson All Brands Can Learn From Peloton

Their holiday marketing disaster shows the value of a good plan

Robbie Mukai
Dec 23, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

When we look at what happened to Peloton, most of us are probably glad that we didn’t have anything to do with the project. It never goes over well when the large part of the U.S. thinks of your company as run by sexist pigs that like nothing better than lecturing women about how their bodies should look.

At least, that’s what people thought they were saying in this thirty-second commercial selling at-home bike equipment. In it, a woman just got an exercise bike from her husband. She records his progress over the year. She’s attractive, fit, and by the end of the commercial, she looks exactly the same. That’s it.

The way I look at it is just a bad commercial. We try to get the best actors, the right story, a good script, and great filmmakers. Then we try to put it all together and make an ad that will convince people to go out and buy. I’m sure the people at Peloton just wanted to do sell bikes, and not try to weigh into the larger social implications of gender dynamics.

That didn’t matter, because the fallout meant $942 million was wiped off Peloton market cap in a single day, plus a Twitter dog-pile, and a freakin partridge in a pear tree.

On the other hand, they've had nine million views on their Youtube video since it came out last month. The sentiment has been roughly equal. It might be surprising that they haven’t taken it down to some. Only Peloton knows, but if I were to guess, they probably haven’t been that sad, all things considered.

With all the media attention that the video has caused, if you were to convert it just one percent, then it might be worth the negative hits in the short term for a bike that retails at over $3K. And let’s face it, nobody is going to remember any of this by next year.


Was Peloton Right?

People could accuse Peloton of making a really stupid commercial that deserves parody, but they did start from the right marketing perspective. As the fashion company that I work with a similar approach. We need to convince that our product is going to make the person feel sexy when they wear our underwear.

To do that, we need to demonstrate the product on a person that will convince the audience that what we are selling will do that for them. Just like Peloton, we start with the same script of research-backed findings that all commercials do: we find a sexy and attractive model. Research has shown us that consumers find attractive models to:

  • Have more positive connections with attractive people.
  • Better at changing purchase intentions.
  • More likability and affection for the brand.

With that all in mind, then I think they started with the right theoretical basis for making a commercial. Sometimes you can take these points (as they did) and still fail (as they clearly did).

That’s because sometimes your content is just bad content. Your actors don’t work out, or your story sucks, or maybe it just looks stupid. I think that Peloton might have a little of all that going on here. But I don’t think they deserve to be flogged until they apologize, and then whipped some more.


What They Could Have Done Better

Assuming that it wasn’t their intent to piss off half the people on Twitter, then they could have started at a better place. Years ago, a group of consultants came in and told our company to do the following — which we have since:

  1. Qualitatively interview a small number of respondents who are part of the target group in order to find the most salient beliefs.
  2. Quantitatively interview a larger group of respondents. Beliefs in the previous phase are measured, as well as attitudes. The aim was to find which behavioral determinants are most strongly associated with behavioral intention.
  3. Develop a message that is targeted at the most influential determinants.

Testing phase:

  1. Compare the message developed in phase three with the message that is assumed to be less successful. A message targeted at beliefs not strongly related to the behavior is assumed to be less successful than a message targeting beliefs most associated with the target behavior.
  2. Test more…

Companies Should Fearlessly Brand

Brand managers should always start with what works, and that is the playbook I previously mentioned. However, the thing to remember is that it’s a risk to publish or create. Whenever you hit that publish button, sometimes it will work, and sometimes it won’t. No marketer or storyteller will ever know if it will or won’t, no matter how experienced they are.

But the thing to remember is that there will always be haters out there — or just people that assume that you are out there trying to make a statement about their personal lives. Most companies won’t do that, because they honestly don’t care. All they want to do is sell their product and have good quarterly numbers.

There was a time for me when I was absolutely critical towards my work and second-guessing it. When the work is for my company, I always make creating a collaborative effort for things that will go live. I try to get a diverse array of opinions on the content, and try to run it by our in-house publication guide to make sure that it’s in-line with the way we talk as a brand.

But by all means, don’t let the fear of offending people stop you from creating better ads. Learn and grow.

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Robbie Mukai

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Social media manager: likes talking nerdy about building effective ad copy + business thought + social marketing strategy.

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

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