Oh, Peloton… what did you do wrong?

The picture above from the controversial commercial, featuring actress Monica Ruiz.

Peloton Interactive

The picture above from the controversial commercial, featuring actress Monica Ruiz.

Sara Croghan, Staff Writer

Context: Peloton, a company notorious for their arguably overpriced but luxurious stationary exercise bikes, released its holiday commercial campaign in early December, setting into motion a wave of controversy over, well… something. The ad features a young woman receiving a Peloton bike for Christmas one year. Through the rest of the year, she documents her journey riding this bike and expresses her fear and reluctance at times. But alas, she prevails. At the end of the year, she is featured showing her husband her collection of video journals and telling him, “A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me, thank you.” The ad has been accused of being sexist, promoting unrealistic body standards, promoting an unhealthy marriage dynamic and has allegedly “crossed a line.” 

Susan Tompor’s article for Detroit Free Press,“Peloton’s controversial bike ad stirred immediate reaction when I watched it,” stirred immediate reaction when I read it:

First, one conclusion upon viewing this commercial that Tompor seems to assert as obvious is that Peloton had one goal: to promote sexist, body-shaming, toxic relationship ideals, thus costing themselves over $1 billion in market value. While I do not speak on behalf of the company, something tells me that Peloton was just trying to appeal to a few clueless husbands as a Christmas gift candidate and, just maybe, sell some bikes. Again, just an assumption. Perhaps the execution of the commercial can be questioned, but to accuse the seemingly well-intentioned commercial of “crossing a line,” seems to, well, cross a line. 

I would first like to offer my own “immediate reaction” to viewing the commercial: nothing. Well, I did think “who would want this dumb bike,” but that had nothing to do with the content of the ad. While I may not represent popular opinion, it frightens me to think that Tompor’s article was written with such backing. Call me petty, but I have a few bones to pick. 

There is one thing, however, that I do think Peloton could have done better. They could have provided a disclaimer at the end of the video stating that the events of this ad were fabricated and the people are, in fact, actors. I say this after reading tweets such as this that were provided in Tompor’s article:

“I think what bothers me about the Peloton ad is the look on that woman’s face throughout the commercial like she’s apologizing for her very existence on this earth.” Either people are reading too much into the commercial, or Peloton had a phenomenal sales year that enabled them to hire such high caliber actors that were able to relay this depth of emotion that the producers undoubtedly demanded from them. I find it hard to believe that there is that big of a market for overpriced stationary bikes. The article goes on to say: 

“Did we just watch a commercial for a luxury brand that featured a man who was somehow dictating how a woman should feel about herself? Why does he get to tell her how long she should be able to sleep? Or even suggest how she could work harder to look better?” I guess I never saw the part where he said all of those things. I mean, sure, one can make those inferences and assumptions from the looks on the actors’ faces. But if we’re going to start making assumptions, what’s to say the woman did not ask for the bike for Christmas? In this obviously real situation, how do we know that this had not been on her wish list for years and her husband was just being thoughtful and considerate? Although the words “she was asking for it” are seen as abhorrent in this day and age, what if she literally asked for it? But before I go on too much of a tangent, I must remind myself that she did not and again emphasize that this is a fake situation in a staged commercial. 

In an article concerned with the “degrading” behavior displayed by this ad, the statement that “there are some things husband shouldn’t buy” (in reference to the message an exercise bike as a gift sends) seems to be a blanket statement stereotyping a woman’s feelings and self-esteem, as well as all womens’ dynamic with their husbands.

In an additional attempt to reason why the commercial was out of line, Tompor declared the bike “not on many wishlists.” While I was touched by the time that was taken to do research into consumer wants around the holidays, I think the point is being missed. The whole point of an ad, or a holiday campaign, is to get a company’s product on the consumer’s wishlist. I am quite sure Peloton is aware that their exercise bike is not trending, but is that not even more of a reason to create a commercial? 

Perhaps I have too much faith in Peloton for refusing to believe that the company would take the time and resources to so obscurely promote such terrible ideals. Or maybe they were just trying to sell bikes.