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

Brand pokes fun of fit culture with ‘Bike of Shame’

Trainer on exercise bike
Planet Fitness put the fitness industry right in its crosshairs with "Bike of Shame."
Planet Fitness

At the end of 2019, the industry and culture were consumed with 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 SoulCycle, 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 executive creative director at Barkley, which won the account in February 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 fitness 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.

But where the partnership, now in its fifth year, seems to have taken off is through a text-to-join campaign, offering 20 cents down and $10 a month. This was the first year Planet Fitness experimented with it and, according to Tucker, who didn’t divulge numbers, the conversion rate was “one of the highest I’ve ever seen.”

For its part, Planet Fitness, with 51 straight quarters of growth, is not short on self-awareness. In the hypercompetitive fitness industry, the brand takes great pains (though it seems effortless) to remind people that fitness doesn’t have to be a competitive, $240-a-month endeavor that takes up tons of time and is meant to fill an Instagram feed.

To that end, the brand commissioned a study, cleverly packaged by Barkley as “Stop the Bullfit,” designed to dispel myths about exercise and motivate the 80% of Americans who are not members of a gym. Like the “Bike of Shame” ad, the idea is to show how getting in shape can be more inclusive and accessible while taking some well-placed jabs at fitness culture.

In the past, Planet Fitness targeted what Hornaday called the “lunk culture” of gyms, but now, it’s “not necessarily the beefy guy,” she said. Now, the likes of CrossFit and Tough Mudder as well as boot camps, gym selfies and, of course, Instagram fitness fame could prove to be rich territory for the agency and brand to explore.

“The strategy is resonating,” Tucker said. “We want to be realistic about fitness, have fun with our brand’s tone of voice, call out the intimidation and have that humor and wit that makes us who we are.”

CREDITS:

Planet Fitness
Chief Executive Officer: Chris Rondeau
Chief Marketing Officer: Jeremy Tucker
VP, National Marketing: Jame Medeiros
National Brand and Creative Director: Carrie Anderson
Senior Manager, Digital Marketing: Jenna De Marco

Barkley
EVP, Executive Creative Director: Katy Hornaday
Group Creative Director: Doug Hentges
Creative Director: Chris Cima
VP, Director of Integrated Production: Melany Esfeld
Sr. Producer: Shawn Wallace
Director of Business Affairs: Anne Thomasson
Associate Creative Directors: Jeremy Gilberto, Jordan Breindel
Sr. Project Manager: Tifany Wrzesinski
VP, Brand Leader: John Hornaday
Brand Director: Julie Barr
Sr. Brand Manager: Jane Skaggs
Sr. Brand Manager: Ashley Cox
Brand Manager: Haley Martin
Executive Strategy Director: Chris Cardetti
VP, Strategy Director: Howard Laubscher
Strategist: Emily Ladig

Production Company: Picrow
Director: Fatal Farm
Production Company Producer: Alejandro Aguiar
Director of Photography: Byron Kopman
Production Designer: Ben Gerlis
Content Production Company: BicMedia
Executive Producer: Corwin Carroll

Editorial Company: Cutters
Editorial Company Producer: Patrick Casey
Editor: Aaron Kiser

Post Production Company: Flavor
Post Production Company Producer: Kate Smith

Post-Audio Company: Post Haus
Post-Audio Engineer/Mixer: Brock Babcock
Music: Alibi Music

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