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This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.
Peloton has been no stranger to controversy in recent times. Whether it’s been ill-conceived advertising campaigns, or simply the celebrities they’ve chosen to partner with, for better or worse the brand certainly knows how to get its name in headlines. Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds and his advertising agency, Maximum Effort, have been a key catalyst behind this.
In a strange twist of events, starting with Reynolds parodying Peloton’s controversial 2019 holiday spot (to promote his gin brand, Aviation), yet another crisis saw the actor-turned-advertising guru partner with Peloton in 2021. Following Sex and the City star, Chris Noth (aka Mr. Big), meeting his fictional end atop a Peloton bike, the risk of a public relations disaster loomed large. Reynolds, however, stepped in and produced a campaign turnaround for the ages to sojourn any significant brand harm.
The brand’s latest spot comes at arguably a never more important time for Peloton, with another 800 jobs axed following 2,800 earlier in the year. Starring (a very naked and “zaddy”) Christopher Meloni, best known for his leading role in Law & Order, the ad aimed to highlight the breadth of workout routines available through Peloton’s app in a light-hearted way. We used our 3Cs methodology to see whether the campaign could get the brand moving in the right direction again.
In this community, people were represented by two separate, yet equally motivated, groups: those who found the approach amusing, and those who found it cringeworthy. While the daring (or let’s be honest, baring!) display and hilarity of Meloni’s escapades certainly stood out and grabbed attention, the ad didn’t strike an emotional chord with the wider fitness community. Instead, many found the nudity and not-so-flattering camera angles inappropriate and irritating.
While the irreverent style certainly aligned with Reynolds’ unique sense of humor, its fit with the Peloton brand wasn’t as seamless. Picking up from where they last left off with the amusing spot featuring Chris Noth, the brand has aimed to position itself as more irreverent, relatable, and light-hearted in recent times. However, despite the best of intentions, this hasn’t yet bedded-in with the broader population. The tongue-in-cheek approach instead clashed with pre-existing perceptions of the brand.
While Peloton has recently repositioned itself under the strapline of ‘Motivation that moves you’, we can confidently say the ad didn’t move people significantly closer to considering the brand. Although the 60” spot clearly showcased the wide range of workouts available through the app, it did little to enhance Peloton’s status as leading a fitness revolution. Meloni’s pulling-power and entertaining theatrics were effective at creating a point of difference for the brand, but this ultimately overshadowed people’s ability to take away information about Peloton’s wider fitness offerings.
The first thing all marketing must do is get noticed; without this, everything else is inconsequential. With an infinite number of brands competing for consumers’ finite ability to absorb marketing messages, the brands which stand out and craft a distinct positioning for themselves will be the ones that win.
However, while doing something different and taking risks is essential, it remains just that — a risk, and positive commercial outcomes aren’t guaranteed. Barista Bros’ use of a catfish to promote its reformulated flavored milk and Coca-Cola’s magical anthropomorphic tongue journey, are just two examples of this. Christopher Meloni’s stark nudity, though humorous for some, follows in these same footsteps.
Moving from one controversy to the next has been part-and-parcel of Peloton’s journey from Wall Street darling to a recent rightsizing of its business operations; the brand’s big bet that lockdown-induced routines would lead to a permanent change in fitness habits didn’t play out as hoped. With the brand attempting to drive change by deploying one witty Ryan Reynolds commercial at a time, its consistency is admirable — a key ingredient for long-term success. But regardless of strategy, what all advertisers can’t lose focus of is emotion and the role positive associations play in building brands which endure. Balancing the brand’s irreverent humor to achieve fame with a wider audience will see Peloton back on track again.