Peloton Shows Us How To Ruin A Smart Strategy With Poor Executional Decisions

 forbes.com  12/04/2019 20:03:22 

By now youve probably heard about the Peloton Christmas ad debacle. The blogosphere is alight with criticisms and rants. I, too, share the view that this spot deserves mocking, but I want to point out to marketers where I think the development of this idea fell down. Hint: it wasnt the strategy.

First, click here to view the spot in case you missed it.

It communicates a lot, but is it enough?

The strategy for this ad is pretty easy to suss out from the ad: be a hero this Christmas by giving your significant other an epic gift the receiver will appreciate all year long, a Peloton bike. Okay, so far so good.

Now, lets look at whats communicated in the spot. The list of strategic points made through action and dialogue is solid:

  • Great gift for Christmas (wifes incredulous reaction to the gift).
  • Easy to start the program (This is my first ride. Im a little nervous. Lets do this!).
  • A feeling of accomplishment to stick with it (Five days in a row. Are you surprised? I am.).
  • The hard work is worthwhile (That was totally worth it).
  • You might get small s famous during a live, online, global workout (She just said my name!).
  • Its about personal transformation (A year ago I didnt realize how much this would change me).
  • If you gift a Peloton bike to someone, they will thank you and keep thanking you (the wife gives a heartfelt, near-teary-eyed thanks to her husband at the end, presumably a year later).

When we look at those bullet points, how can onlooking marketers like us complain? On paper, thats one hard working ad, right? In thirty seconds Peloton has communicated more than most infomercials do in five minutes.

But the problem is not what is communicated, but how its communicated. And its a lesson in execution, from narrative/writing to props to casting to direction.

A gift that says, Youre fat.

Lets start with the underlying, unsaid narrative here. The husband gives his wife a Peloton bike. What does that mean? Theres a slight chance the wife asked for it for Christmas and hes just obliging. But thats not likely since shes so visibly surprised when she gets it. Its clear this gift came out of the blue.

No, what giving a gift like this says is something every husband is, under normal circumstances, wildly careful to never say to his wife. It says, Yeah, I think youre fat. Did you notice theres no wrapping paper or even a bow on the bike when the husband unveils the gift? In fact, the unveiling itself is even the wifes job as she is asked to cover her eyes for the surprise. No bow or wrapping is a subtle thing, but come on, man, at least show a little love.

Speaking of which, the husband is about as wooden and disconnected as a naked mannequin in a Christmas window. Notice at exactly :28 into the spot she says her heartfelt Thank you while staring lovingly at him. Any normal person would fully engage with that, eye-to-eye, smile-to-smile. But not this husband, he keeps watching the video, which is obviously over, as if he doesnt want to lock eyes with his wife. What?

Poor casting of the husband, poor direction given to him and possibly poor editing. But the husbands reaction changed the entire scene from what might have been positive to negative, or at least questionably negative. But it gets worse.

A story of transformation, hold the transformation.

woman on peloton bike

Peloton Bike, the perfect gift?

copyright SHAWN HUBBARD

But the whoppingly obvious problem with the execution of this spot is that the wife doesnt transform at all. Shes skinny and athletic looking in the beginning and shes skinny and athletic looking in the end. Even though she says, A year ago I didnt realize how much this would change me, what were seeing on screen doesnt appear to be a change at all.

Sure, she may have transformed in other ways (overcome depression, for example), but theres no evidence of this kind of transformation in the ad. Which leaves the viewer with only the wifes body size and shape to evaluate such a transformation claim (sorry, TV is a visual medium).

And this risk could have so easily been mitigated had the opening scene been the wife holding a newborn and then a year later in the final scene the child is almost walking. But even that risks the whole Youre fat issue described above. Could this ad have been saved?

Staged testimonial is an oxymoron.

I think the ultimate problem with this Peloton ad is that it is obviously a fake, staged testimonial. It tries hard to come off as a real transformation, but as good as the actress is (I thought she was greatnot her fault this didnt work), its just inherently inauthentic. And viewers can easily see that.

This idea might have worked had it been about real people with their own real transformations. It could have been a year long social media campaign where Peloton actively looks for (and publicly asks for) the best personal transformation stories. Real ones. Profound ones. Where people post the videos they create with a #PelotonTransformation hashtag, resulting in one winner at the end whose videos are turned into an official Peloton ad that runs on TV.

That way its a real testimonial. One we can relate to. Where the success of a transformation narrative isnt measured by the number of bullet points in a creative brief covered in the spot, but in how the viewers themselves are transformed after seeing it.

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