When Peloton unveiled its 2019 holiday commercial depicting a husband who gifted his wife a stationary bike for Christmas, the ad was widely panned as sexist, dystopian and reminiscent of a hostage video.
People took umbrage at the commercial’s characters – a white, upper-middle-class family – and said it sent a range of dangerous messages about everything from gender norms to body dysmorphia.
While the controversy eventually faded from the headlines, the public remembered. The ad solidified Peloton’s nascent identity as a high-end bike company reserved for a certain type of person at a certain income level.
Now, the company is ready to change that perception.
Peloton on Tuesday is launching a new marketing campaign that bills the retailer as a company for anyone, regardless of age, fitness level and income – or whether they shelled out thousands for a pricey piece of equipment.
The brand relaunch comes a little over a year into Barry McCarthy’s tenure as CEO. He has worked to transform Peloton from a hardware-focused company into one that’s just as invested in its app and the high-margin subscription revenue that it brings.
Since McCarthy, a former Netflix and Spotify executive, replaced founder John Foley in February 2022, the company has been on the defense.
It has worked to rein in its gargantuan costs, remedy recalls and find new revenue streams as demand for its connected fitness products slowed and consumers became more cautious about their discretionary spending.
While the company has yet to return to profitability, it has managed to stop the bleeding. With a new marketing chief at the helm, Peloton says it’s ready to reintroduce itself to the world and shed the image the holiday ad seared into some minds.
“We know that the perception externally does not match the reality of who we are,” Peloton’s chief marketing officer, Leslie Berland, who started with the company in January and led the relaunch, told CNBC in an interview. “This company historically has been thought of as an in-home bike company for fitness enthusiasts but over the years, it has evolved into something that is much more bigger, much broader than that.”
Peloton focuses on the app
The relaunch comes along with a new, tiered app strategy that includes an unlimited free membership option (with no credit card required) and levels that cost $12.99 and $24 monthly.
The content people will have access to varies by the level and, in some cases, legacy users will have less access come December when a grace period ends. Currently, people who pay $12.99 a month to use the Peloton app can do a bike class every day, but in December, they’ll only be able to do three per month.
The relaunch includes a “Gym” function that allows users to take Peloton’s app into the gym with them and create custom workouts.
Peloton is also saying goodbye to its trademark fire engine red and black colors in favor of a new mix of hues it says better captures the “energy” of a workout and the “afterglow” that comes. New branding materials include shades of purple, pink, green and a lighter red.
In a splashy 90-second marketing video shared with CNBC, Peloton’s app takes center stage. It shows people of all shapes, sizes, fitness abilities and ages using it to take strength and yoga classes at home, but also in gyms, which have long been considered a threat to Peloton’s business.
While Peloton features its Bike, Tread and Row machines in the clip, it does not show the hardware until about 30 seconds into the video.
The message is a far cry from Peloton’s earlier commercials and marketing materials, which predominantly featured ultra-fit athletes using its equipment.
“[We’re] now leaning in for the first time to the idea that OK, not everyone is going to bring premium Peloton hardware into their home,” Tom Cortese, Peloton’s co-founder and chief product officer, told CNBC in an interview. “Our members have a phone, we’re on their phone, they take their phone where they want to go and if you want to put [the Peloton app] on someone else’s hardware, that’s fine, and if you want to bring it into someone else’s gym, that’s great.”
Peloton insisted the focus on selling subscriptions does not mean it has abandoned its hardware business, and said the company is on a dual track with both. The new campaign focuses on the app because there’s been so little advertising of it, and market research shows just 4% of consumers know about it, the company said.
“When we first started coming out of Covid, and the press likes to be tough on Peloton, it was ‘everyone’s going back to the gyms’ but we know that our members were using our products in the gym,” said Jennifer Cotter, Peloton’s chief content officer.
She pointed out that Peloton’s strength training content, not its cycling or running classes, is the No. 1 type of class for digital members and the No. 2 among those who have Peloton hardware. It shows how eager users are to consume Peloton content that has nothing to do with its equipment.
“When it comes to this initiative, we’re just excited that No. 1, our members will feel reflected and new members will feel like Peloton is for them,” said Cotter. “And then, you know, the tiering structure allows us to welcome people up the ramp.”
Briana Deserio, 32, has been a Peloton member since the early days of the pandemic. She said the brand’s competitive and aspirational appeal originally led her to buy a Bike.
When briefed about the company’s new marketing strategy, she told CNBC she supports the move and its focus on being inclusive. But she said there’s a chance making Peloton accessible to everyone could dilute its brand.
“It’s kind of like a club and now everyone’s coming into the club,” said Deserio.
Berland, Peloton’s new marketing chief, isn’t concerned about the brand losing strength. She said the new marketing strategy reflects what the company already is.
“Our members, our instructors, our classes, our content. That is unchanged. The company has evolved into all of this,” said Berland. “It’s time for the brand and the marketing to represent all of that and all of its vibrancy.”
Liz Coddington, Peloton’s chief financial officer, said creating different points of entry to the company’s content will set it up for long-term growth.
“What we’re doing is we are opening up the total addressable market to Peloton to people who may not have considered us in the past because we weren’t really speaking to them,” said Coddington.
“The real goal truly is just to bring more people into the ecosystem of Peloton however they want to come in, and then help them on their journey in how they want to consume our content over time, whether it’s through the free option, through the lower tier or through the higher tier or eventually buying or renting our hardware,” she said.
The company has not incorporated potential upside from the app and marketing strategy into its financial outlook, and said some paid app members will likely downgrade to the free membership option.
In the past, churn rates have briefly spiked when Peloton changed prices, but soon returned to typical levels, she said.
“We are optimistic about it,” said Coddington. “But it’s hard to know until we know.”