By Zaib Shadani
Exercise bike company Peloton has been mocked unmercifully on social media for its Christmas advert
No one could have predicted the swift and overwhelmingly negative response to the 30 second Christmas advert from exercise bike company Peloton, which has been mocked unmercifully on social media and called “sexist”, “classist” and even compared to an episode of the disturbing sci-fi series, Black Mirror. A PR disaster for Peloton, the backlash has been so intense that Peloton’s stock has tumbled 15 percent, its market value has fallen by $1.6 billion and the company has even had to publicly address the issue with an official statement, saying it was “disappointed in how some have misinterpreted” the advert.
Now, while this is undoubtedly catastrophic for Peloton, it also provided a unique opportunity for Ryan Reynolds to expertly “newsjack” the situation in a brilliant marketing coup on behalf of his gin company, Aviation. Newsjacking is extremely difficult to pull off, as it entails taking advantage of current trending news stories to positively promote one's own brand, but in the case of Aviation, it’s a gamble that paid off big time.
But first, let’s see what all the Peloton fuss is about: Titled “The Gift That Gives Back,” the advert sees actress Monica Ruiz playing the part of a woman gifted an exercise bike by her husband for Christmas. She records her exercise journey for a year, and then presents the vlog to her husband, as a way of saying “thank you”. The fact that she is already super slim has enraged audiences and prompted many to charge Peloton with promoting an unhealthy body image, while the advert has also been likened to a hostage video and widely memed because of the look of fear in Ruiz’s eyes as she documents her workout videos.
Viewed more than 8 million times, the media and PR chatter around this story is astronomical and presented a golden opportunity to Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds. He was quick to see the potential to newsjack the controversy and leverage the eyeballs that the advert has received towards his own brand. His response was pure genius: a follow-up spoof that is a tongue-in-cheek sequel advert for Aviation gin, and continues the saga of “The Gift That Gives Back” with bottomless Martinis to help blur the memory of all that the ‘Peloton Wife’ has endured. The clincher – it features Monica Ruiz in the starring role.
As if that wasn’t enough, Ryan Reynold’s took it one step further: The advert (below) is entitled “The Gift That Doesn’t Give Back,” and shows an expressionless Monica Ruiz out for drinks with two friends, who tell her she is “safe” now, presumably from her horrific past, as they toast “to new beginnings”. The piece de resistance however is the fact that the advert was tweeted by Ryan Reynolds, with the sublime caption “Exercise bike not included #AviationGin”. The results? The advert racked up more than four million views in its first day online, and is currently trending at 9+ million views.
In an impressive marketing move, Reynolds showed impeccable timing in seizing the opportunity to promote Aviation with an advert that was cheeky, humorous and pure genius: why wouldn’t the traumatized ‘Peloton Wife’ want to swap her exercise bike for cocktails? The advert itself was shot and put out within 36 hours of securing Ruiz’s participation, a mere 15 days after the original Peloton advert was released.
While Aviation doesn’t explicitly refer to the Peloton advert, its release is so well-timed that people automatically make the connection. Moreover, Aviation doesn’t comment or take sides in the Peloton controversy – they simply piggyback on its notoriety to tap into an audience that is already engaged and vested.
From a PR and marketing perspective, the Aviation advert is flawless and reads like a PR handbook for effectively newsjacking – it’s timely enough that viewers can make the connection between both adverts, but most of all, Aviation was able to capitalise on the Peloton controversy without overtly taking sides, while underscoring the humour in the situation. They successfully roast Peloton without even mentioning the brand once and emerge as the surprising victors in the fallout from the epic Peloton advert fail.
* Zaib Shadani is a PR consultant and media trainer at Shadani Consulting