Why Planet Fitness Made a Peloton Pivot for New Year’s Eve

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At the end of 2019, the industry and culture were consumed will all things Peloton. The brand’s widely mocked holiday ad was a PR nightmare and fodder for one of the year’s best ads. Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin took advantage of the cultural moment to playfully “save” the woman in the original ad.

Other brands may have unwittingly stumbled into the moment as well. Home fitness brand Bowflex appears to have been a beneficiary. The brand’s casting of “real-life” people in a campaign by agency Fig seems to have been a positive move.

After the noise seemed to die down, Planet Fitness added its own spin with an ad that featured—you guessed it—a bike. But this is no ordinary bike. The brand decided to poke the Peloton bear by calling it the “Bike of Shame,” putting the fitness industry right in its crosshairs.

The 30-second ad from independent agency Barkley features an over-the-top spin instructor barking at the class while a leaderboard ticks in the background. In some ways, the creative feels like a mashup of the movie DodgeBall and Soul Cycle, especially the “hiss of shame” for the woman falling behind on the leaderboard. The lead-in gets to the payoff, and Planet Fitness’ bread and butter: a no-pressure environment where people can exercise without feeling intimidated.

“It’s a hilarious depiction of the spoken and unspoken exclusivity in the competitive fitness environment that [society has] created,” said Katy Hornaday, evp and ecd at Barkley, which won the account in Feb. 2019. “How high up on the leaderboard are you? How many calories are you burning? And sometimes, you might feel left out, and sometimes your place on the leaderboard makes you feel like you don’t belong. And that’s what we were trying to bring to light.”

While the spirit of the ad, which debuted on New Year’s Eve, fits the brand’s ethos, the creative is more pointed, directly taking shots at the silliness of fitness culture, from Peloton to the millions of fit selfies posted on Instagram. Interestingly, the brand had another ad ready to go for its New Year’s Eve program but, in light of the remnants of Peloton, decided to go in this direction instead.

“We had been working on the campaign for several months, and this spot was written, filmed and ready to go,” Hornaday said. “When everything happened with Peloton, it felt like this was a moment in time where we should change the order of the spots.”

“It struck me that a social conversation was happening, someone hit a nerve, and we [should take advantage],” added Planet Fitness CMO Jeremy Tucker, who joined the company in November. “I told the team to stop working on [the other ad] and flip to this. It was one of the first major moves I made as CMO. I thought that this would resonate and have a good response. We were changing the order, but not the strategy.”

Leaning into New Year’s Eve, and calling ‘bullfit’

One of the strategies that has worked wonders for Planet Fitness is its Times Square New Year’s Eve partnership. Anyone watching the ball drop, whether one of the 1.5 million in New York City or the tens of millions who tune in, can’t miss the brand’s presence.

Structurally, the deal is with both the Times Square Alliance and Dick Clark Productions connected to ABC. While there are more traditional media moments on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, the fact that networks like CBS, NBC and CNN all broadcast from Times Square substantially increases the scale and creates a fully owned share of voice. Additionally, the brand got a significant shot of social buzz as Jimin, one of the members of BTS, rocked a tall Planet Fitness hat.

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