Peloton: The Latest Example of Consumer Outrage Over Ad Content

Occasionally companies and their advertising teams will find themselves in hot water for controversial advertisements or campaigns that set out to be edgy or funny, but push the envelope a bit too far. Consider, among the many examples, Bacardi’s “ugly girlfriend” ad, Burger King’s sexually suggestive “Super Seven Incher” ads and Dove’s “Before & After” ad showing a transition from a black to a white woman.

Likely these companies knew they were taking a risk in putting those ads out there but didn’t fully appreciate the likelihood of the level of potential backlash. But sometimes ads not intended to contain any type of offensive content still manage to offend. Peloton’s 2019 holiday ad did just that with an advertisement for their high-end exercise bike.

Consumer Outrage Causes Drop in Stock

“Peloton Interactive made big news when its stock dropped 9.12% on Dec. 3 to close at $33.48 a share, down $3.36.  The stock fell 1.55% on Dec. 4 to close at $32.96 a share, down 52 cents,” writes Susan Tompor. “The stock appeared to take a hit after social media exploded about the latest lush holiday Peloton ad featuring a gorgeous young woman who tells the story of her harrowing year-long journey to get up at 6 a.m. and ride that exercise bike that her husband gave for Christmas.”

In an opinion piece for CNN by Lynn Smith, Smith labels the whole situation a “faux controversy.” Smith explains, “Critics have bashed the ad, claiming it’s sexist, relies on marital stereotypes and may even depict spousal abuse.” Apparently the actor who played the woman’s husband has also shared his own concerns about the impact of the backlash on his own career. “The ‘Peloton wife,’ as she’s been dubbed, is responding as well. Monica Ruiz says she was shocked and overwhelmed by the attention, especially the negative,” Smith writes.

Key Takeaways

It’s hard to treat the Peloton case as a cautionary tale of insensitive marketing ploys in the same vein as Bacardi’s, Burger King’s or Dove’s ads. In fact, it’s very possible the Peloton team included women and they may even have considered potential backlash based on gender stereotypes. We, of course, have no insights to the internal decision making.

The big lesson to take away from the Peloton case is that even seemingly innocuous content can cause an unwanted stir when viewed through different lenses. That makes it important for marketers to consider their messaging from a variety of perspectives. You just never know when unintended outrage may ensue.

We’ll admit that we were not offended when we first saw this ad. In fact, we’ve been interested in the bike for some time and could be considered part of the company’s target market. But, what about you? Did you find this ad offensive or not. Share your comments.

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