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Peloton CMO on how she’s marketing the brand out of choppy waters

Peloton had more than $4bn wiped from its market value after the death of a child linked to its product

Peloton’s chief marketing officer joined the company in a year of unprecedented highs, and fraught with lows, with a remit to widen its appeal. Here’s how she’s doing it.

Dara Treseder arrived at Peloton in early 2020. The brand was still reeling from an advertising campaign that landed just a month earlier, which was described by critics as ‘sexist’, ‘offensive’ and ‘dumb’. It saw a slim and visibly wealthy woman gifted a £2000 Peloton bike for Christmas by her husband, which led her to record a year-long video diary of her exercise sessions. That December, almost $1.5bn was wiped off its value, which had reached $9.39bn the same month, as a direct response to the ad’s backlash.

18 months later, its chief executive John Foley is still fielding questions from City analysts on the effect of what he dubbed ‘ad-gate’.

“[Brand health] is obviously something we care deeply about,” said Foley in response to an analyst on its recent third-quarter earnings call.

“It ebbed and flowed over the last two years going back to ad-gate. We’ve had moments and months where we’ve shone bright and situations that we feel like we have some work to do to get back on the right side of the line with trust and safety and let people know what we stand for.”

Treseder’s remit was to get the brand back on track. Little did she know that a global pandemic was on the horizon. While many businesses – like gyms – suffered amid global lockdowns, Peloton’s sales skyrocketed 172% as fitness buffs searched for new ways to work out at home.

It might have been easy for Peloton to hold back any brand marketing spend at this point, riding a wave of fortune few could have predicted. Instead, last September, Treseder led its biggest ad investment to date in a campaign aiming to democratize the brand. Instead of impossibly sculpted actors and models, the brand featured regular people talking about their Peloton experience – the antithesis to its last piece of work.

At the time Treseder denied any U-turn in its creative was linked to past marketing missteps. Instead, she tells The Drum that the strategy of opening the brand up – showing “it’s for everyone” – had been in the works long before ‘ad-gate’.

“When Peloton started we really focused on explaining the product. But [now] there’s this opportunity to show that Peloton is for everyone. And the way you do that is a creative approach that helps you see yourself in the ad,” she says.

“If there’s a theme here it’s that Peloton is for everyone, and it really is. [The creative] says, ‘Peloton is for you, come on in. We want you here, you’re welcome.’ And I think that’s something that maybe people haven’t thought [before]. It’s something we’re doing more intentionally.”

It spent almost 30% of its total revenue on marketing last year. So far this year sales and marketing expense has represented just 16.5% of total revenue. The drop in spend was two-fold. Firstly, it was struggling to keep up with demand as orders piled in for its bikes. Secondly, it’s spent much of the past few months battling the issues caused by a mass product recall following several accidents linked to its Tread+ machines and products, including the death of a child.

It wiped off more than $4bn from its market value.

“The most important thing that people care about is what’s your North Star?” says Treseder of trying to move past the troubles.

“At Peloton we are focused on improving the lives of our members. It’s not that we don’t make mistakes. It’s not that bad things don’t happen, right? You know, we live in this world where lots of stuff happens all the time, and you get thrown curveballs. But no matter what we come back to that – how can we improve the lives of our members? People who know us trust us. And the people who are getting to know us are also inspired by seeing that this company is really committed to doing what’s right for its members.”

As it emerges from that PR disaster, it’s planning to ramp up spend for the rest of the year, starting with a campaign that launched last week. It’s a reminder to its 5.4 million members of what Peloton offers that nowhere else does, as well as an invitation to everyone not already signed up.

It shows a variety of regular people as well as athletes and celebrities using its suite of products and talking about how the community motivates them.

“Boy, does this campaign tell you Peloton is really welcoming everyone, no matter who you are,” she adds.

Treseder downplays the importance of this push. But it comes at a crucial point for the company. Of course, it needs people to view the brand more positively after six months of negative headlines. But, more importantly, as the world returns to normality and gyms re-open, investors are waiting with bated breath to understand the full impact it will have on Peloton’s growth.

According to market research company Cardify.ai, a survey of Peloton users recently found that 41% of Peloton Bike, Tread and app users are beginning to replace their workouts with in-studio gyms. Additionally, more than a quarter indicated they’re likely to discontinue their subscription.

“We retained customers before the pandemic and we’re retaining customers during the pandemic,” says Treseder. “What is sticky about the platform is that it works. Once people get into the ecosystem and start taking the classes they stay with it. I think that’s going to continue, even as we emerge from this pandemic. That stickiness is going to continue, you’re going to continue to see members coming back for more.”

Peloton is taking no chances though. In the past few weeks it’s ventured into gaming, launched a corporate wellness offering, and experimented with new workout formats, all in the name of ensuring connected fitness subscribers – which grew 113% to just over one million during the pandemic – have a reason to keep coming back.

“We continually are working on increasing access,” she says, pointing to its finance options and branching out into other types of exercise classes such as yoga through its connected fitness app.

“A lot of people could see only one aspect of the brand. And they start to, you know, not fully understand who it is or what it is. And so part of our job [this year] is showing that full picture.”

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