Peloton should, by now, probably be used to people making fun of its ads. People joke that most are set in multimillion-dollar homes with expansive views of extraordinary vistas. They point out that most of the people in the commercials are in exceptional shape, and while it seems they're involved in intense workouts, they miraculously hardly sweat.
So the company probably shouldn't have been that surprised that people called it out for its latest ad, which portrays a woman whose husband seems to think the thing his already-fit wife really needs for the holidays is a stationary bike. The question most critics seemed to have was exactly what message does it send a wife when her husband buys her an exercise bike?
Nothing says "maybe you should lose a few pounds" like gifting your already rail thin life partner a Peloton pic.twitter.com/E2M9gFdD5A-- Siraj Hashmi (@SirajAHashmi) December 2, 2019
Yes, there were people who pointed out that there are thin people who want to get in shape, or stay in shape, and that's certainly a valid argument. But the bigger question some asked was why does Peloton never show the story of an overweight person whose life is transformed by its bike?
Which actually underscores an important point. Peloton has developed a reputation as being a bit tone-deaf in its advertising, which causes a disconnect with most of us who don't live in ultra-expensive homes with a stationary bike smack in the middle of our living room. Which is, of course, where you have to put a Peloton so that you can stare out the window at your perfectly curated view.
Brands can certainly use aspirational marketing to attract people who want to live a certain kind of lifestyle. Car companies do this exceptionally well. Of course, the difference is that a brand-new Lexus doesn't require a workout to enjoy its luxury. On the other hand, there's a disconnect when your message is "my life is perfect and all it took is riding this $2,000 stationary bike in my $1.5 million living room every day for a year."
Still, I'd agree that the ad probably wasn't worth getting offended over, though it was worthy of a certain degree of ridicule. That is until Peloton took issue with the criticism and responded, with a spokesperson saying:
"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."
You're "disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial?" Really?
That's about as passive-aggressive as a non-apology can be. It's a bad response because it's basically saying, "We're sorry you feel that way." Which, by the way--and I've said this before--is the absolute worst possible way you can ever respond to a customer or a critic.
Even when you don't think you did anything wrong, when someone else feels like you did, there's a problem. You owe it to your brand to be intentional about how you respond to criticism. In fact, even before you respond, you owe it to your brand to figure out why your message was so off target in the first place.
Peloton's response admitted that the message it wanted to send isn't the same message that at least some people got. When that happens, you can certainly be "disappointed" and blame those people for "misunderstanding," or you can try to better understand why that disconnect exists.
Peloton's response to criticism demonstrates that it not only doesn't believe it has a brand issue but that the company is sorry if you feel it does. Except, you can't apologize for how someone else feels. You can only apologize for what you do. If you did something wrong, own it, make it right, and move on. If you haven't done anything wrong, don't apologize for how the other person feels. Rather than fix it, that ends up feeling like a slap in the face.
Instead, seek to understand it, and recognize that the disconnect is real and is something you need to address. Sure, some people will take issue no matter what you do, but even when it's not your fault, it's still your problem.