A young mother exercises on a stationary bicycle in the comfort of her home and the internet erupts. Why? Perhaps this is a question that the fitness equipment company, Peloton, is wrestling with at this exact moment.
Peloton’s stock dropped nine percent the day after online criticism really hit its stride, equal to a billion-dollar hit. Descriptors of the ad are myriad, from “privileged” to “sexist”, “dystopian” to “disturbing.” The ad’s thumbnail has drawn similarly mocking captions.
“Thank you for not giving up on me honey,” reads one Twitter take, “I know I have a lot of work to do… I promise I’m going to fix this.”
“The only way to enjoy that Peloton ad is to think of it as the first minute of an episode of Black Mirror,” reads another.
So what, exactly, is all the fuss about?
“A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me,” beams a young woman into a camera. She’s describing the gift of an exercise bike- with a whopping $2,245 price tag- given to her by her husband. Internet users say the television advertisement is disturbing and reminiscent of an era that showed wives as submissive audiences for their husband’s purchasing decisions.
Peloton’s latest Christmas effort has already been satirized by Aviation Gin, featuring the same actor drinking with her friends. The outpouring of memes is a good indicator of how fast-paced is the world of marketing today: an error made by one company is turned into another company’s media win before the initial controversy has even had a chance to subside.
Moreover, the stakes are higher than ever, especially when product advertising is used in tandem with social commentary. Take Pepsi’s 2017 Kendall Jenner ad, for example, or a Super Bowl ad by Dodge Ram trucks that included a sermon from Martin Luther King. At first glance, Peloton’s ad doesn’t fall into this category.
Indeed, the featured woman is a working mother: she comes home in smart clothes and manages to fit exercise into her busy schedule life, and her home is an upper-middle-class dream. She isn’t the “young and frivolous, almost childlike,” 1960s archetype described by Betty Friedan.
Even so, this is not a simple case of a marketing miscalculation: Peloton has managed to draw attention to a major product flaw, and thus misses the safety net that is “all publicity is good publicity.”
In truth, the woman in the advertisement is isolated, and her Peloton bike does little-to-nothing to help her. “She just said my name!” Peloton’s heroine cries out after the on-screen instructor calls out to “Grace in Boston.” Her surprise is warranted: Peloton streams its cycling classes to more than 6,000 members out of its New York and London studios.
The advertisement stands in stark contrast to Peloton’s pitch in its initial public offering earlier this year, which was that “consumers are increasingly spending on experiences and are seeking meaningful community connections.” An ad about a solo woman in her living room isn’t just sexist: its bad advertising.