Was that controversial ‘Grace in Boston’ Peloton ad designed to create buzz?

Screenshot via PELOTON

In the wake of a Peloton commercial that provoked a tidal wave of backlash, a new theory has emerged: The company intentionally made a controversial commercial in order to create buzz.



Not so fast, says Yakov Bart, an associate professor of marketing at Northeastern. 

“There is pretty clear evidence that this was an accident,” says Bart, who studies marketing strategies and digital advertising. 

Yakov Bart, associate professor of marketing. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In the commercial, “Grace in Boston” unwraps a Peloton stationary bike and uses it throughout the year, all the while creating a video compilation of her rides as a gift to her husband.  

The 30-second video inspired ire online from people who thought it was sexist, elitist, and dystopian.

In statements to numerous news organizations, Peloton officials stood by the commercial, saying to a reporter from The Boston Globe that the ad had been misinterpreted, and that it “was created to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey” so many of its customers take.

Over the weekend, actor Ryan Reynolds took advantage of the backlash to post a commercial for his brand of gin, using “Grace in Boston” once again. In his commercial, a seemingly stunned Grace toasts to “new beginnings” with friends. 

It’s a savvy move, supported by research from Alexander DePaoli, associate teaching professor of marketing at Northeastern, which shows that customers who shop while angry are more likely to be satisfied with their purchase.   

But was the original Peloton commercial purposefully controversial? The answer lies in the way the company launched the ad. 

If Peloton had meant to create a viral video, Bart says, the company likely would have posted the video to social media sites and invested in its promotion in order to spread it as quickly and as widely as possible.

Screenshot via PELOTON

If that had been the case, Bart says, the (intended) backlash would have picked up almost immediately after the video went online. 

“That’s not what we see here,” he says.

The ad began airing on TV on Nov. 4, and was posted to YouTube on Nov. 21, but didn’t gain traction until this week—news reports about the backlash were published on Dec. 3 and 4.

“There was a delay of at least a few weeks before the whole brouhaha started,” Bart says. “If the brand wanted to make it viral from the beginning, we would have seen the placement of the ad for the maximum impact. Instead, this really looks like it was an ad intended for a very niche audience that got out of control.” 

Rather than a carefully crafted controversy, Bart says the ad is more likely a classic case of a brand “losing control of the message.” 

The stationary bike in question starts at $2,245, before the $39 per month subscription for Peloton classes. This means, Bart says, that Peloton is targeting a “very niche audience” with its advertising. 

“They’re targeting people who have a big house and a high income; people who have a space for a Peloton bike in their homes and who can afford to buy one,” he says. 

But in an age where everyone is connected by social media, commercials intended to appeal to a small segment of the population are up for view and debate by a much wider segment, Bart says. 

“Peloton is an example of a niche brand, and this ad might have worked very well for the audience for which it was intended,” he says. 

That might well have been the case.

On to the next news… cycle.

For media inquiries, please contact Marirose Sartoretto at m.sartoretto@northeastern.edu or 617-373-5718.