Usually, when a video goes viral, it’s considered a good sign for the brand. There are some exceptions, however. But even then, it’s possible to channel the emotion behind the virality, transforming a lemon into lemonade, or rather, a lemon twist on a cocktail.
If ever there was a campaign that built up a strong adverse reaction, it was the Peloton ad for the 2019 holiday season. Entitled “The Gift that Gives Back,” it featured a husband surprising his perfectly slim wife with the gift of a Peloton bike. A year later, the wife gives her husband the videos she made of herself riding it and declares that it truly changed her life.
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While comments are turned off for the YouTube video above, Peloton could not turn off the comments that sprang up on social media, and that prompted a flurry of news articles about everything wrong about the ad and a fairly steep drop in stock price. It wasn’t just the cringe-worthiness of the ad that made the company come across as completely tone-deaf; Peleton’s statements on it reinforced that take when it insisted that all those who were turned off by it failed to understand its positive message.
In an emailed statement to CNBC, Peloton declared: “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.” Gulp.
In other words, “for those who didn’t get that our commercial is a positive message, that’s your error, and you disappoint us. But there are a tiny handful who support us and prove that there is nothing wrong with our message.” Or something like that.
As Jason Aten wrote in Inc.,the response is “about as passive-aggressive as a non-apology can be.” Faced with the fact that people do not appreciate the suggestions of sexism and the privileged life of affluence assumed for the target market, the company insists that the audience — rather than the marketing team — got it wrong.
Just as that doesn’t work in trying to fix a fight with a friend or family member, telling customers they misread intentions is not the way for a brand to fix its relationship with customers. In effect, Peleton’s messaging came across as a lemon and left an unpleasantly sour taste behind.
But that same lemon was picked up as a twist to a cocktail in the brilliantly timed release of the ad starring Monica Ruiz, the actress from the Peloton commercial, to promote Aviation American Gin. Deliberately entitled, “The Gift That Doesn’t Give Back,” this YouTube video –unlike the Peloton ad — does allow comments:
Comments also come through on the video on Instagram and on Twitter, not to mention the dozens of online articles that referenced the Aviation Gin ads, which all added up to over 10 million views in just a couple of days. Granted, not all of them are positive, but most applaud its on-point humor.
One of the owners of the Aviation brand is the actor Ryan Reynolds. He told the New York Times that he and his partner George Dewey resolved to act quickly to ride the momentum of the virality of the Peloton ad: “If you’re going to do something like this, you have to jump on the zeitgeist-y moment as it happens,'” he told the Times.
The commercial was shot on Friday, December 6, and released the same night. Reynolds put out a tweet and Facebook post that embedded the video with the pointed observation, “Exercise bike not included. #AviationGin.”
There is no bike in the bar that is the setting for this ad but do note that there is a lemon peel garnishing each of the gin cocktails the women are enjoying as they assure the shell-shocked looking central actress that she is safe there. She expresses appreciation of the smoothness of the gin and proposes a toast: “To new beginnings.”
Indeed, from an objective point of view, promoting exercise is healthier than promoting drinking. But what the Aviation Gin ad gets right that the Peloton ad gets wrong is understanding what people want from relationships. The woman in the bar finds acceptance, support, and affirmation with her female friends in contrast to having to demonstrate that she changed herself as a result of her husband’s gift.
Had Peloton’s marketing team acted with the same creativity and agility as Aviation Gin did, they could have come up with their own follow-up to turn their lemons into lemonade by laughing at their own folly instead of being sour about being misunderstood. Instead, Aviation Gin grabbed the opportunity to squeeze positive virality from the Peloton lemon.