Peloton made a controversial holiday ad. Then it dug a deeper hole with a non-apology that blamed people for being offended.
Here’s the ad. What do you think?
What’s the problem here? For one, the woman is hella skinny even at the start of the ad. The implication is that her husband thinks she needs to be better and gets her a piece of exercise equipment. And the fearful look on her face is certainly subject to misinterpretation.
Let me argue both sides here for a minute.
I can see what Peloton was trying to do. To begin with, the main purpose of a piece of exercise equipment like this is to get fit, not to lose weight. It’s perfectly believable that a slender woman would want to do that, and would be excited about this high-tech exerciser. Perhaps she told her husband she wanted it. (I have gotten exercise equipment for my wife, but only because she asked for it, because I’m neither an asshole nor suicidal.) And I can sympathize with the woman’s uncertainty and sense of accomplishment, since an exercise journey is hard to start and hard to maintain.
Even with that all said, this ad is problematic, because she appears to be an insecure woman who’s being manipulated. Maybe, maybe not. But the way this was shot and presented certainly could lead to a negative interpretation. It’s tone deaf. And that’s why Peloton suffered a massive backlash and a 9% drop in its stock price.
Peloton’s response was horrifying
Peloton felt it needed to respond, so it sent statements to news organizations like CNBC. In addition to sharing some positive responses it got from customers, it included this comment:
We constantly hear from our members how their lives have been meaningfully and positively impacted after purchasing or being gifted a Peloton Bike or Tread, often in ways that surprise them. Our holiday spot was created to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey. 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
Umm . . . “we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted our commercial?” That’s just insulting. It makes things worse. It blames the viewer. And it’s the opposite of an apology.
There are two possible strategies here, and Peloton chose neither.
One is to actually apologize:
We were surprised by some of the responses to our holiday ad. In retrospect, it’s clear that some people found it sexist and misinterpreted the dynamic between the woman and her husband. We made a poor choice in how we portrayed this dynamic, which was supposed to show an uplifting journey. We apologize for offending people and airing the insensitive ad. In the future, we’ll include a diverse set of women in the group that vets ads here in the hopes of projecting a more positive and inclusive set of messages that are consistent with how Peloton actually feels about its customers.
Another is to vigorously defend yourself:
Although our ad apparently offended lots of people, it reflects our values and we continue to be proud of it. A woman encourages her husband to buy her a Peloton in her journey to fitness. After hard work, she accomplishes her goals. It makes no difference what size and shape the customer is tous — we want to encourage everyone to take charge of their wellness journey and improve. We’ll continue to do all we can to encourage everyone to take charge of their fitness, and we hope you will join us in that.
I think the first is better, but the second would at least have shown some integrity.
But a non-apology about being “disappointed” in its critics just annoys everyone.
Either own who you are or apologize. Don’t end up the muddy middle, because nobody wants to buy an exercise bicycle from a company that can’t get its story straight.