The Most Expensive Holiday Ad Ever.

I was surprised by how bad this ad was even though I had already read the commentary on it by a lot of experts I respect.

The Peloton bike ad called “The gift that gives back,” was being torn apart on social media for a few different (public opinion) reasons:

  • The wife should have been heavier
  • The husband was evil for giving her a piece of exercise equipment, aka “don’t get fat, honey.”
  • Why did she look so terrified of her first ride on a stationary bike in her own home?

And the list goes on.

While none of that is good, it’s not this ad’s core problem.

(If you haven’t seen it, click here to watch.)

Quick description:

It’s a winter-white Christmas morning in a beautiful Architectural Digest-type home with snow gently falling outside and a fire in the fireplace. The wife is being led into the beige living room by the kid—with her hand over her eyes.

The husband says, “Okay, are you ready? Now!” she exclaims, “A Peloton!”

So far, so good. The next scene is where it starts to fall apart.

She’s on the bike for her first ride. She looks terrified. And she has started to video her Peloton journey. For what reason, we have no idea.

“I’m a little nervous but excited,” she says. Nervous about what, for Pete’s sake? She’s on a stationary bike in her own home, not running her first marathon.

As Amy Hoy (@amyhoy) pointed out in her now-famous Twitter analysis of the ad, that’s not the most disturbing part.

She says:

“We see her from the outside.

We watch her get the present.

We watch her get on the bike.

We watch the video she filmed.

But who are WE? The scriptwriters actually wrote our perspective to be the husband’s perspective.”

Amy nailed it. That’s the first and probably biggest mistake this ad makes. It didn’t pick the first person or third person perspective—it was written (and acted) for second person—the viewer. And it makes us feel like voyeurs watching something we shouldn’t be.

Then we watch a confusing montage of her journey on a giant TV screen. Is she trying to tell us to give a Peloton or get one? Or that getting one isn’t all that bad?

The other problem is that there was no fundamental transformation. She didn’t change. There was nothing to overcome (other than her supposed real fear of the bike to begin with). She wasn’t trying to lose weight, and she wasn’t heartbroken—she was happily married (we are led to believe) with a healthy kid living in a gorgeous house.

The “star” of the commercial—the gift giver—is barely there. The husband has one line. Remember, the title of the commercial (the concept) is “The gift that gives back.” It’s meant to be directed at those who give gifts, not receive them.

Amy (@amyhoy) offered a great fix in that Twitter takedown:

“If they did a voiceover—’I always had excuses…’

While showing her unpacking the bike, setting it up, taking the first ride, waking up at 6 am, etc. and at the end saying ‘I did it.'”

Now there’s an ad with some meaning behind it. Something we can all connect to—excuses and the joy of overcoming them. A Peloton bike helped me succeed at getting exercise every day!

The Peloton ad was badly written and poorly conceived and directed (by the agency). And the acting couldn’t overcome that. The framing of the story was just too confusing.

Thus, the misinterpretation of the ad by the public and the almost billion-dollar loss in market value.

Why is everyone analyzing the heck out of one ad?

Because this kind of thing is terrible marketing. It gives marketing itself a bad name. And if we can understand why the ad didn’t work, we can improve. Which makes things better for all of us.

But more important than that…

I saw only one other person make this point about the ad (on LinkedIn):

It got approved to run. The agency had to have held a screening. If you didn’t know it would play like this when you read the script, you had to know it was terrible once you saw it acted out (if you are any kind of marketing professional, that is).

Yet no one spoke up. No one from the agency said, “We should probably rethink this.” No one from Peloton said, “That wasn’t what we were going for and won’t play well to our audience.”

Fear of losing a client/paycheck (agency) and ego (Peloton) cost the company some serious market value–$942 million, to be exact. The most significant single-day drop in the company’s history.

And there’s the real lesson. Never let fear or ego stand in the way of doing the right thing for a client or your company.

It will always bite you in the arse.

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