Peloton holiday ad goes viral for its 'sexist' message

Peloton’s new holiday ad was supposed to inspire potential stationary bike customers, but some Twitter users felt it was promoting sexism and unachievable life goals instead.

In the November 21 spot titled, “The Gift That Gives Back,” a mother identified as “Grace from Boston,” receives the bike (which retails for $2,245) as a Christmas gift from her male partner.

"First ride. I'm a little nervous, but excited. Let’s do this," Grace says in a video diary.

Each day, over the course of one year, Grace films herself riding after work and early in the morning, compiling the clips into a grateful video tribute to her partner. “A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me — thank you,” says Grace. At the end, the couple watches the montage on the following Christmas, with Grace gazing at her smiling partner.

Commenters besieged the ad, tweeting about the wife’s already athletic appearance and linking the couple’s home to the company’s presumed audience.

There was dark humor on the dynamic between Grace and her partner. Comedian Eva Victor spoofed the ad (expletives included) in a video with almost 3 million views. “My husband gave me a Peloton for Christmas,” Victor says in the skit. “Nothing weird about that!” In the end, Victor serves her fictional husband divorce papers.

“Seriously, why is she gazing at him like this?” wrote Hemal Jhaveri at For The Win. “Why is she so desperate for his approval? She’s the one who did all the work! It is incomprehensible what’s happening in this relationship, or why this woman desperately craves the validation that only Peloton can provide.”

But many didn’t take the ad too seriously.

A Peloton spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle, "We constantly hear from our members how their lives have been meaningfully and positively impacted after purchasing or being gifted a Peloton Bike or Tread, often in ways that surprise them. Our holiday spot was created to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey. 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."

Richelle Martin, 37, of Frisco, Texas, who runs XXL Peloton Tribe on Facebook, a positive space for bike devotees, says the ad struck a nerve in her group. “People are upset for different reasons — that the woman doesn’t look like she’s enjoying her workout or because of her appearance,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “One person said the husband is ‘abusive.’”

But Martin, who has an 11-year-old son, says the motherhood subplot is important. “When you’re a mom, you give everything to your child and can lose yourself,” she says. “I interpret the ad as the man giving his wife the gift of time and a chance to dedicate to herself.”

According to a 2019 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to men, women spend more time on housework and cooking and less time on leisure activities like watching TV, socializing, or exercising. It’s understandable, then, that some moms might not have sufficient time to leave the house to exercise. In one scene of the Peloton ad, Grace’s daughter works at a desk while her mom fits in her workout.

Martin’s own husband gave her a Peloton bike for Mother’s Day last year, a purchase she had eyed for years. For somebody who “hated exercise” and felt self-conscious at the gym, Martin cycles comfortably at home to reach her weight-loss goals, supported by her virtual Peloton community.

A new holiday Peloton ad meant to inspire is instead getting criticism. (Screenshot: YouTube/Peloton)
A new holiday ad Peloton meant to inspire is instead getting criticism. (Screenshot: YouTube/Peloton)

Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, says the Peloton ad entered tough territory. “Strategically, I can see what Peloton was trying to accomplish — that the bike makes a great holiday purchase or a splurge,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But the ad rubbed people the wrong way because it’s delicate to present a fitness tool as a gift.”

Especially a gift from a man to a woman, he adds, which risks gender stereotyping. Alternative storylines might have included the bike as an empowering purchase for oneself or both partners. “Given the price of a Peloton, it’s not unreasonable to assume both partners would use it,” he adds.

Calkins speculates that casting an attractive and fit actress was a careful consideration. “The woman was fit before and after using the bike, which suggests that Peloton is not a weight-loss tool but a lifestyle choice and a remarkable movement,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Martin says the ad is ambiguous. “Maybe the husband just wanted to make his wife happy,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Don’t judge if it’s not your journey.”

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