An ad for the Peloton bike has been widely criticized on social media.
A woman walks downstairs on Christmas morning hand in hand with with her daughter, covering her eyes because her partner is surprising her. She seems shocked but excited to see that he got her a Peloton bike and she starts filming her experience, starting with her first virtual class. (The bike retails at $2,245, and customers can take livestreamed and on-demand classes for $39 a month.) She says she is “excited but a little nervous,” but stares at her phone camera looking downright afraid. It’s a television ad, released on YouTube on November 21, that already has more than 3 million views, not to mention that it has triggered a social media firestorm.
By the end of the commercial, time has passed, and she and her partner are sitting together on a couch near a Christmas tree. She’s playing him all the videos of her using the Peloton bike that she’s created throughout the year — the changing seasons are visible from the floor-to-ceiling windows she looks through as she rides. “A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me,” she says.
Social media commentators have said that the man is suggesting the woman should lose weight, that she biked every day and made the video to get his approval and that she looked as scared as a character in the horror movie Get Out. Television writer Jess Dweck posted a tweet comparing it the dystopian television show Black Mirror and comedian Eva Victor tweeted a spoof video that has been viewed more than 3 million times and retweeted more than 31,000 times. “Okay, my first ride. I’m a little bit nervous and rightly so because my husband got me a … workout bike for Christmas and that’s rude,” she says. “A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me. Babe, I want a divorce,” Victor says before handing her fictional partner divorce papers.
Regardless of the company’s intention, Peloton’s stock fell 10.5% from the closing price on Monday, before the social media frenzy, to Wednesday. It has cost Peloton more than $1 billion, with the market capitalization dropping dropping from $10.3 billion on Monday to $9.2 billion on Wednesday. Daniel McCarthy, an assistant professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, attributes the stock price dip directly to the ad. “A lot of the implied valuation of the company comes from the very long customer relationships that the market expects Peloton to have with its customers,” McCarthy said, “It can cause companies like Peloton to exhibit a lot more stock price volatility when there are events that can cause people’s views to move up or down. I think that is exactly what we are seeing right now.”
McCarthy said he wouldn’t be surprised if the ad is taken down but that there may be an unexpected outcome. “History would suggest that this sort of snafu will be short-lived and people will forget about it in two weeks,” he said, “If people forget about the ad … but remember Peloton it might end up being more beneficial than it seems.”
Peloton is standing by the ad. “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,” a Peloton spokesperson told Forbes in a written statement.
Stephanie Jacobson, a Peloton customer who owns the bike and pays the monthly subscription said that Peloton’s marketing has been “tone-deaf consistently” and that the ads cater to “an upper-class consumer.” Jacobson thinks a more effective ad would showcase the strong community of Peloton riders, noting that devotees frequently interact, sending each other messages of encouragement. “This morning, thousands of people rode with a woman whose husband died unexpectedly,” Jacobson said, “She asked people to ride with her and said that riding will help her grieve.”
In an investor note Tuesday, Raymond James analysts wrote that the “significant backlash” of the ad wouldn’t have a long-term effect but that it might cause a shift in Peloton’s marketing strategy: “While reactions to the holiday ad are disappointing, we do not expect it will adversely affect holiday demand.” This isn’t the first time that Peloton ads have received significant social media attention. The company’s ads featuring beautiful homes and pretty people have been widely parodied.