Peloton defends Christmas advert – but with reaction to "male fantasy" spot knocking $1bn off company value, has the damage already been done?

Fallout from seasonal slot has certainly slimmed down indoor bike brand’s share price

Peloton has defended its Christmas advert following the backlash it received the internet this week – but with $1 billion knocked off the indoor bike and treadmill business’s market value in the past 48 hours and warnings about the effect on its brand image, the damage may already have been done.

The 30-second spot shows an already slim woman being gifted a Peloton exercise bike by her husband for Christmas and then recording herself using it over the ensuing 12 months to produce a video for his present the following year.

> When ads backfire - what went wrong with THAT Peloton spot?

The advert has been criticised primarily on grounds of being sexist and reinforcing body stereotypes as well as being unrealistic, with some describing the woman’s expression as akin to that of someone in a hostage situation; one comedian even produced her own spoof version, which ended with her presenting her husband with divorce papers.

Others have taken Peloton to task on the ultra-aspirational lifestyle this and its other adverts display – the bike taking pride of place in a perfectly kept luxury house or apartment straight out of an interior design magazine, though to be fair there’s no shortage of brands on the planet that same criticism could be levelled at.

Yesterday, Peloton defended the ad, claiming that it had been “misinterpreted” by its detractors.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the company said: “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.”

The ad has continued to appear on US TV channels, although there have been rumours stateside that the company may pull it in a bid to end any negative publicity.

Ad Age reports that Justin Patterson, an analyst from investment bankers Raymond James, wrote in a research note that while the current “significant backlash” was likely to be only temporary, “we do believe Peloton may review its marketing strategy, given the frequency in which its ads are parodied on social media.” 

But consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, a professor at Golden Gate University, was scathing about the spot, saying: “It’s a complete male fantasy ad.”

She said it could encourage men to become so-called “gifting heroes,” as well as wanting “skinnier spouses.”

Yarrow added: “They created a conversation about the ultra-thin, perfect model – clearly not an actress – getting even more perfect.

“It’s overdone, hokey and because of that, memorable and worth talking about,” but she warned that it may “dent the image of the company to women going forward.”

Peloton – which describes itself as a media company, despite its bike costing more than $2,000 and treadmill $4,000, with the business model based on customers buying the hardware then taking out monthly subscriptions to access content – had a lukewarm reception when it floated on the New York Stock Exchange in September.

On the first day of trading, its share price fell, costing investors $900 million. That loss had subsequently been recouped and more, with the shares trading at around 15 per cent above the IPO price at the start of the week – until the holiday ad went viral.

$942 million was knocked off the company’s capitalisation on Tuesday alone, with a further fall yesterday bringing the drop in market value to more than $1 billion.

Curiously, the ad – entitled The Gift that Gives Back – has been around since early November.

However, it’s only been in recent days that it has attracted widespread attention, perhaps as marketing efforts online and via TV were ramped up, with the Christmas shopping period only kicking in fully in the US after Thanksgiving – Black Friday may be a recent introduction to the UK retail scene, but the phrase has been used on the other side of the Atlantic for more than half a century.  

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.