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December 11, 2019

How Aviation Gin Demonstrates Audience Trust

Written by Don Scales
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Last week Aviation Gin showed us what it means to trust your audience.

The spirits brand launched an online ad that, on the surface, seems like a pretty harmless slice-of-life moment. Here’s how it unfolds:

  • Two women at a bar comfort a third woman sitting between them. The woman in the middle apparently needs some uplifting.
  • “You’re safe here,” one of them says.
  • “To new beginnings,” the woman in the middle says, raising her glass of gin. She hungrily downs the gin.
  • “It’s gonna be a fun night,” the other friend says, cocking an eyebrow as she watches the woman in the middle gulp the gin. She offers her own glass to her friend.
  • Now cut to the image of a bottle of Aviation American gin. “You look great by the way,” a voiceover says.

This ad went viral and won the praise of critics everywhere, including analyst Brian Solis, who called the spot “the future of fast advertising.”


Why all the praise, exactly?

Well, you already know the answer if you’ve been following the news. The woman sitting between her two friends at the bar is actually played by the actress who portrayed the role of the fitness-conscious wife in the much-maligned Peloton exercise ad. In fact, the Aviation Gin spot is a wry hijacking of the Peloton ad. It’s very, very meta.

Peloton, of course, faced withering criticism in the early going last week after its latest online spot featured a husband who purchases a Peloton bike for his wife as a holiday gift. For the next several seconds, Peloton tracks her progress as she apprehensively takes on an exercise routine.


Critics said the ad was patronizing, sexist, and, well, really off in its tone. I won’t rehash all the criticism here – you’ve probably seen enough of it by now – but an Adweek contributing columnist, advertising executive Amy Vaughan, spoke for many critics when she wrote:

Having an already seemingly fit woman act nervous about getting on a stationary bike while filming her every workout five times a week for her husband for a full year while her token child looks on is like a trigger wrapped in a trigger wrapped in a trigger. Coming to you this Christmas to remind you of all the things you should be and are not.

Now, let’s take another look at that Aviation Gin spot, which the company quickly put together as the Peloton controversy was raging. In context of the fury of criticism about the Peloton ad, the Aviation Gin ad has a completely different meaning. But here’s what makes the ad brilliant: Aviation Gin doesn’t explain anything. The company trust the audience to read between the lines and understand its meta meaning.

For instance, Aviation Gin never identifies the woman sitting between her friends as the “Peloton Wife.” But the timing of the ad makes it clear that we’re supposed to assume she is. And the “You look great by the way” is an obvious reference to how Pelton Wife looked impossibly physically fit in the Peloton ad.

Now, take a close look at Peloton Wife. Notice something missing? How about her wedding ring? The implication is that she left “Peloton Husband,” possibly because his taste in gifts reflected a mismatch in their values. Or possibly because he did not empower her the way her friends do – with the help of Aviation Gin.

The ad also works because it’s consistent with the Aviation Gin brand, which is cheeky and clever, befitting its owner, actor Ryan Reynolds. The tone is perfect for Aviation Gin (which refers to itself, tongue planed in cheek, as “An American original – now owned by a Canadian”).

The lessons from Aviation Gin?

  • Be opportunistic. Aviation Gin saw an opportunity and seized it.
  • It’s OK to take a calculated risk. Inserting itself into a toxic situation was somewhat risky for Aviation Gin. Had the ad backfired, Aviation Gin could have associated itself with all the negative backlash over Peloton. Instead, Aviation Gin turned one brand’s sorrow into another brand’s victory.
  • Get the tone right. The humor worked. But humor is so hard to pull off. Don’t do it unless you’re working with someone who understands the nuances of funny advertising – and humor is a matter of nuance.
  • Most of all, trust your audience. Aviation Gin understood that its audience was internet and culturally savvy enough to understand the true meaning behind its ad without needing to be old.

You hear it so often: show, don’t tell. But when huge budgets are on the line, and in the age of the internet, when attention spans are ever shorter, it’s awfully tempting to explain too much. Fortunately Aviation Gin did not yield to temptation.

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