May 20, 2024

After a Peloton Ad Falls Flat, What Can Companies Learn to Avoid?

Author: Jonny Lupsha, News Writer
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By Jonny Lupsha, News Writer

Fitness company Peloton’s stock fell 15 percent in three days after an unpopular ad, Business Insider reported. The commercial, released in late November, shows a woman documenting a year of exercise after receiving a stationary bike for Christmas. While seemingly simple, it’s sparked considerable backlash.

Marketing team assessing results on computer
Ads contribute powerfully to consumer opinion and buying trends—either positively or negatively. Photo by SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock

Peloton’s new ad aims to deliver a message about how much a customer’s life can change after a year of doing their best to be healthier and to get into shape. On the surface, it seems to be a positive, if not run-of-the-mill, “features-and-benefits” commercial for an exercise bike. Unfortunately for Peloton, it seems the more times people watch the ad, the more off-putting they find it.

For one, although the joke may be decades behind us, most people get the hint when a man buys his wife exercise equipment for Christmas—or a gym membership. Second, she makes short selfie videos as she works out, including her “first ride” which makes her seem, at best, inept at working the equipment and, at worst, terrified of living up to his expectations. Third, as the commercial ends, it shows the woman and her husband reviewing a homemade documentary of her progress, which—to some—gives the appearance that he’s controlling and monitoring her.

According to the Business Insider article, the company lost $1.5 billion in stocks within three days after the ad went viral. When most of us think of what makes for the best commercials, we think of the compelling, provocative, artsy short films that come on during the big game every year. Conversely, some ad campaigns fail outright. Here’s what makes the difference.

Identifying and Targeting a Problem

One of the most successful ad campaigns of the late 1980s and early 1990s served the California Milk Processor Board. Milk sales were on the decline in the 1980s, despite focusing ads on children and promising them that milk makes for strong bones and bigger, healthier, more attractive grown-ups. So why the sales dip?

“The Milk Processors did some good market research and they determined that although there were many possible reasons for the decline in milk consumption, they zeroed in on one problem that they thought they could actually address through advertising: rationing,” said Dr. Ryan Hamilton, Associate Professor of Marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

“It turns out that milk is consumed differently than a lot of other beverages,” Dr. Hamilton said. “Because it’s usually purchased one gallon at a time and shared across an entire household, consumption of milk is highly sensitive to how much milk is on hand. Given its importance, and the relative ease of addressing it through advertising, rationing was the behavior the Milk Processors Board wanted to change.”

For the ad campaign, the Milk Processors Board decided to push milk as the perfectly-paired beverage for daily foods like breakfast cereal, sweets, and sandwiches. Then they decided to produce several commercials showing humorous situations involving what happens when you run out of milk.

In one, a man loses out on an easy prize when a radio station calls him with a question to which he knows the answer because his mouth is too dry to answer. Another man has died and believes he’s in Heaven only to find an endless supply of chocolate cookies but empty milk containers, causing him to realize he’s in Hell. All these commercials ended with the gentle reminder, “Got Milk?”

The message is simple: Running out of milk is a pain, so it’s best to keep some extra around the house. Nobody wants to choke down a dry bowl of cereal, make mom drink her coffee black, or ruin a dinner recipe because poor rationing got the better of your supermarket schedule.

The Peloton ad failed to address only one specific problem, and it didn’t send a clear 30-second message. By filling the ad with several messages, contributing to a perception of harsh gender stereotypes, and showing a woman seemingly terrified of losing enough weight, it’s little wonder why the commercial was a flop.

It’s too bad “Got Bikes?” wasn’t available.

Dr. Ryan Hamilton contributed to this article. Dr. Hamilton is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Emory University's Goizueta Business School

Dr. Ryan Hamilton contributed to this article. Dr. Hamilton is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, where he has taught since 2008. He received his Ph.D. in Marketing from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

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