I’d class myself as an enthusiast of both gin and cycling, though these two passions don’t often combine – unless we pass a great pub on a day ride. As a cycling purist, I am part of the crowd that has (rightly or wrongly) snubbed the stationary bike craze, led by Peloton, that’s still sweeping London and New York.
So when I heard Ryan Reynold’s Aviation gin had taken a crack at Peloton this weekend, I laughed heartily to myself as I donned my lycra. But when I actually saw the ad, I had a very different feeling indeed.
If you’re not familiar with Peloton – it is, in short, a stationary bike that costs around £2000, plus a spin class subscription at £40 a month. The brand has attracted some controversy in the past, but its ads have been forgettable enough. Its summer campaign showed the busy lives of people (supermodels) who wake up at the crack of dawn to intensely ride their stationary bikes, set to a Jay-Z soundtrack. The 2018 Christmas ad shows a man gifting a bike to his wife, but not before he secretly sneaks to the garage every day and uses it himself. Pretty standard workout stuff.
Now we get to this Christmas. For those who haven’t seen the original ad: a woman makes a video for her husband, who bought her a Peloton last Christmas, talking about how working out all the time has changed her. Maybe we’re meant to think she just loves exercise, but the narrative, combined with the perma-anxious face of the actress involved makes it seem like some sort of hostage situation.
The internet sniffed the sexism in this a mile off, and understandably went nuts. I’m not the first person to note that the whole thing is reminiscent of a Black Mirror episode.
Now onto Aviation gin. Actor Ryan Reynolds, who owns the brand, is a dab hand at marketing both in his film career (see the launch of the first Deadpool film around Valentine’s day) and in his marketing of the brand – see his attempt at the bottle cap challenge in the summer for Aviation.
It’s safe to say he gets it. With this ad being no exception… at least, to begin with. We see the same actress – a close up of her face, clearly in a bar. As the camera pulls out we realise she’s there with two friends, and each has a martini – and they ask her if she’s ok, toast ‘new beginnings’ and tell her she’s looking great – a nice dig.
The concept of freeing the ‘Peloton wife’ is amazingly timely and hit precisely what many media outlets and viewers were already thinking and discussing, So far, well-done team Aviation.
But where it falls apart for me is when the actress downs her whole martini in one go, as her friend hands her another. The idea of a relationship breakup going hand in hand with heavy drinking is often true, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t damaging, and certainly isn’t something a brand should responsibly be promoting.
You can roll your eyes at me for consistently banging the safe and proper alcohol marketing drum, but is this ending really needed? Isn’t her being set free from Peloton enough? And is “thank God you’ve stopped working out so much, you can come get absolutely shitfaced with us now” the best punchline they felt the set up could deliver?
Is it a good idea for ads to tell people that this is the only proper way to cut loose and have fun, especially over the Christmas period?
My biggest question though is, how did this get to air in the States? Almost any marketer in the UK would know for sure that this wouldn’t fly (sorry) so how did Aviation get it to stick?
Well, the video is technically not an ad. It’s not running on ad breaks on TV or pre-roll online, it’s just a video Ryan Reynolds has posted on his YouTube (not Aviation’s). There is an alcohol section under Google’s ad policies which for the most part covers content as well. These rules cover the usuals such as not targeting individuals below the legal drinking age, not implying that drinking alcohol can improve social, sexual, professional, intellectual, or athletic standing, not implying that drinking alcohol provides health or therapeutic benefits, portraying excessive drinking favorably or featuring binge or competition drinking. The usuals. But Aviation’s breaking of the rules seems more subtle than the usual. It’s definitely one of the tamer pieces of alcohol-related content I’ve seen on YouTube, so the obvious question is – should there be more oversight here?
I am aware the Aviation team probably wrote several good endings to their ad knowing that the one they went with would result in articles like this one being written and therefore generate more press. But that doesn’t make the bad taste in my mouth go away.
I have a fondness for Aviation gin, especially its tone of voice and this is why I expect more. An amazing setup, lost on a tired message.
For those of you tirelessly working out by yourself over Christmas, or to those downing gin by the glass, I’d suggest finding a middle ground for both… and if brand marketing could reflect this, I think we could maybe make people feel a little happier these holidays.
Ryan, by all means, get in touch, and tell me to get on my bike.
Merry Christmas all.
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