At first watch, I thought I’d maybe landed on the wrong Peloton ad. I was looking for the one causing ALL the outrage; the one being trashed online for its “sexist,” “perplexing,” and “body-shaming” effects. But I had, in fact, found the right one.
The 30-second spot shows a husband surprising his wife with a Peloton bike for Christmas. She immediately starts a vlog—fitness-influencer style—about her experience with the stationary bike, saying in her first video that she’s “nervous” to try it. In another clip, she says she’s used it five days in a row: “Are you surprised? I am!” The commercial culminates with her and her husband watching her vlog on their big screen—as couples do!—and her reflecting on the gift: “I didn’t realize how much this would change me!”
To be honest, this didn’t register all that high on my outrage meter, which—I’ll admit—has been recalibrated in recent years. It struck me as silly and unrealistic, if anything. But the fierce criticism of the ad points to the new standards brands are up against, as more consumers demand traits like authenticity and inclusiveness from the products they buy.
The ad does, indeed, tick a lot of ‘tone deaf’ boxes. Some interpreted the gift to the ‘Peloton Wife,’ as she’s been dubbed, as body-shaming by her husband. Then there’s the surprise she expresses—she didn’t ask for the bike; her husband decided she needed it, which gives the ad a gendered, controlling-spouse vibe. That’s exacerbated by her prisoner-in-my-own-home expression throughout the spot, as if she’s pedaling in place against her will. Finally, we have the message that viewers need a $2,000 indoor bike—plus a $40 monthly subscription—to change their lives. To be fair, that’s what consumerism is all about, though brands usually try to find a more subtle way to say it.
Peloton, for its part, is standing by the commercial. “While we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial, we are encouraged by—and grateful for—the outpouring of support we’ve received from those who understand what we were trying to communicate,” it said in a statement. (Investors, it seems, were swayed a bit more by the criticism as shares slipped amid the immediate backlash.)
It is a bit dumbfounding that Peloton—a viral, disruptive player in the tech and fitness space—didn’t see this coming. In the current climate, brands are using their advertising to challenge long-fraught stereotypes; in just 30 seconds, Peloton managed to reinforce quite a few of them.