The “Peloton Wife” is on the verge of striking up a new relationship outside her marriage
The actress who plays the controversial Madison Avenue figure in a commercial for the luxury physical-fitness company is back in a new ad campaign – for another marketer that has little to do with promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Aviation Gin, owned by Davos Brands and actor Ryan Reynolds, on Friday released a video ad for its liquor in which Monica Ruiz reprises her role as the woman whose husband gave her a Peloton bike in a different commercial, sparking a frenzied digital conversation over whether Peloton was reinforcing sexist images of wives forced to keep themselves thin to please their spouses.
The commercial showed the wife vlogging a year of her Peloton workouts, nervous in some moments and determined in others. At no point does the husband imply he’s dissatisfied with her appearance and the gift, given as part of the holiday season, appears to be welcome. “Our holiday spot was created to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey,” Peloton said in a statement earlier this week. “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 Aviation spot adds a new chapter to the story. In the new commercial, Ruiz’ hapless wife sits at a bar with two female friends, apparently shocked by the furor surrounding her appearance for Peloton. “You’re safe here,” says one of her pals. The wife proceeds to down a martini – quickly. “This gin is really smooth,” she says, and the other friend offers her a second drink. As the ad shifts to a picture of Aviation Gin, one of the girlfriends is heard saying, “You look great, by the way” – a clear reference to the Peloton workouts.
Aviation’s commercial response gained traction Friday evening after Reynolds tweeted a link to it, along with the comment, “Exercise bike not included.”
Other advertisers have used this technique in the past to great benefit. Sprint in 2016 hired actor Paul Maracelli, who for nine years had portrayed Verizon’s “Test Man,” an ad character known uttering the now-famous saying, “Can you hear me now?” New Sprint ads made clear the Verizon figure had switched allegiances. The character had not appeared in a Verizon campaign since 2009, but telecom giant apparently had not struck a deal preventing his likeness from appearing elsewhere. In 2003, Target ran an ad for its SuperTarget grocery store that used 17 different ad characters, ranging from the Pillsbury Doughboy to Tony the Tiger. In years past, the Maytag Corp. repairman turned up in an ad for General Motors’ Chevrolet and Yum Brands’ Taco Bell Chihuahua made a cameo in a commercial for Berkshire Hathaway Inc.‘s Geico.
Those commercials tapped into the familiarity consumers had with figures developed over years, sometimes even decades, of ad campaigns. Aviation Gin, on the other hand, is attempting to harness a hot moment that is no doubt just days away from going cold.
Aviation’s test flight with the character shows just how radically new forms of media are transforming the industry. In the past, a well-established ad character would be heavily trademarked, and only available for secondary use via some sort of licensing agreement that would require Charlie the Tuna or Toucan Sam to adhere to dozens of rules about appearance and behavior. In some circles, those strictures no doubt remain. Why would Progressive Insurance want its popular ad mascot “Flo” used in ways that run contrary to its marketing goals?
In the current era, however, anyone can lampoon an ad on social media. Indeed Peloton’s “wife” has been spoofed in social-media memes and parody videos. Besides, she was likely never seen as a character per se whose actions needed governing by a corporate “brand book.”
Peloton is one of a growing number of advertisers who have relied primarily on web-based direct-to-consumer advertising that are now branching into TV and video commercials in an effort to broaden their base of customers. Companies like Wayfair, Warby Parker and Casper built their business by selling furnishings, eyeglasses and mattresses to a particular consumer niche using the targeting capabilities of the web. In recent months, they have funneled some of their ad dollars into television, where big brands like Procter & Gamble and McDonald’s use the medium to get the word out about products and services to a bigger, more diverse array of potential buyers.
The new-tech direct-to-consumer advertisers are getting a good lesson in the challenges of TV advertising. What might seem humorous, heartwarming or inspirational to tech-savvy corporate founders, may not seem be interpreted as such by others from different backgrounds and with different incomes.
Peloton has so far kept its commercial in rotation. Aviation, meanwhile, would likely have a tougher time getting its Peloton response on several TV networks, which are governed by rules about putting alcohol ads in front of adult audiences and depictions of drinking.
No matter the potential for backlash, using traditional forms of video advertising could help both of these companies get to the next level. On Madison Avenue, even the new dogs use old tricks.