Peloton’s hilarious market sell-off

The other day, I was watching television and a commercial for the American Cancer Society came on. It had a woman with a bald head covered in a scarf talking about how she had never considered how important the American Cancer Society was until she was diagnosed with cancer. She listed all the great things the American Cancer Society does for her – they give her rides to treatments, they give her places to stay near her doctor, and so on. She concludes with the plea, “I need these things like you don’t know. But now that you know, please give [money to the American Cancer Society].”

I had seen that commercial many times before, but now that it is an endless repeat cycle for the holiday giving season, I finally noticed the small print. The woman talking about all the great things the American Cancer Society has done for her is an actress. She doesn’t have cancer. She’s not using American Cancer Society resources. They aren’t helping save her life. They are paying her to tell a story that seems real so people will send their nonprofit money.

That’s really strange, I thought. Why does a nonprofit even need to use an actor to beg for money on television? Don’t they have a bunch of real people with compelling real stories to tell? Are real people with cancer not pretty enough for television? If viewers see a little old lady who just had her breasts cut off, does that make them less likely to donate than a bald model talking about her struggles from her trendy bungalow?

Marketing is an awful sport.

When I saw all the headlines about Peloton this week, like most people I went searching for a video of the “sexist” commercial. I was expecting it to be really bad. A husband fat-shaming his wife, whatever. Instead, it was – well – boring.

It wasn’t any different than any of Peloton’s other marketing efforts. The most offensive aspect of it is conspicuous consumption. Most of Peloton’s advertisements showcase expensive real estate. Look at how rich I am. I have a room in my apartment just for my expensive stationary bike. And that room has sweeping views of the Upper East Side. My fitness room was in Architectural Digest last year, the same issue with Anderson Cooper’s vacation house in Peru.

This isn’t really special in the marketing industry. Folks in marketing have a term for Peloton’s audience: aspirationals. People who are not wealthy but crave status. They will spend $2,000 on an exercise bike just to signal the wealth they don’t have. And people who are not celebrity skinny, but they will pay to meet with a personal trainer one day a week before going to Krispy Kreme. Emphasis on pay. Those people don’t want to see people who look like them and that’s precisely why the marketing works.

Like Harvard buying the SAT scores of kids they know they are going to reject so they can send them marketing materials, coax them to apply only to be rejected, and keep their exclusivity statistics high, Peloton markets the lifestyle of the rich and skinny to ordinary Americans. They aren’t doing this because they are sexist. They are doing it because they are in the business of envy.

I guess it is possible to get worked up over that, but I think the American Cancer Society’s fake cancer stories are far less ethical marketing endeavors. And totally unnecessary, as there are not many people in the country who have not been impacted by the disease in some way or another.

But Peloton’s stock fell over 15% in the course of three days because people on Twitter suddenly became angry over the existence of fitness models. $1.5 billion was erased from Peloton’s market value. Talk about buy the dip.

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