Peloton, the indoor bike start-up, released a new holiday ad that in another time may not have made a dent in the cultural conversation.
But this is 2019, and once the internet found the ad and pulled at its seams, there was no turning back.
Social media is awash in critics who have seen the ad and are confounded by its aims, accusing Peloton of peddling negative body image, unchecked privilege, and gross marital dynamics.
This much is clear: We’re living in a post-Peloton holiday ad world now.
There’s a tangled web of accused offenses to run through, but first, let’s break down the 30-second spot.
We open on a young mother descending the stairs of her home, led by her daughter. It is a snowy holiday morning (you can see the snow through the home’s luxurious floor-to-ceiling windows!).
A faceless husband is waiting for her with a surprise gift!
“A PELOTON?!?” she shrieks – but in delight, or fear?
The unnamed woman begins to document her fitness journey in a vlog, and audiences briefly wonder if this woman is a professional YouTuber.
She rides after work. She rides, begrudgingly, at 6 in the morning.
She rides straight out of winter and into the spring – one can tell time has passed because the windows now reveal a lush and green backyard.
She records it all, though her large, doe-like eyes seem to plead those of us watching at home for help.
Who is making her vlog after all?
Now it’s fall, and our unnamed protagonist has cycled her way through three seasons in 20 seconds! From the screen in front of her, a Peloton instructor finally acknowledges her efforts – “Let’s go, Grace from Boston!”
Grace, still home in Boston, is thrilled. Viewers are thrilled to learn this woman has a name.
“She’s So High,” a Tal Bachman song that debuted 20 years ago, swells as Grace unveils her yearlong vlog to her husband – it was he she was speaking to all along!
“A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me,” she says, now a full believer.
Audiences cannot immediately notice how Grace from Boston, as fit now as she was at the ad’s start, has changed, other than she is now named and perhaps has joined a fitness cult.
She thanks her husband for the gift, though it seems as though she did not initially ask for the exercise machine in the first place.
Why people hate it
So what, then, is the most offensive part of this ad?
Critics suggested it smacked of sexism. In a biting clip, comedian Eva Victor skewered the fact that a husband bought his wife an exercise bike seemingly unprompted – what message does that send to the wife, then?
Perhaps Grace from Boston just wanted an actual bike or an Instant Pot or something, but in Victor’s clip, it seems her husband was nudging her toward weight loss.
About weight loss – It’s never explicitly mentioned that Grace from Boston uses the bike to slim down, and she’s already quite slender when we meet her. We know exercise benefits the body and mind, but in this ad and others, it seems Peloton bikes are used only by people who are already fit.
Perhaps it’s the idea that a working mother has the time to record her daily fitness regimen for her husband’s viewing pleasure – and is she doing so against her will? Or maybe it’s the use of the schmaltzy anthem “She’s So High,” a relic of an era when depictions of these marital dynamics were widespread?
The ad is of course fictional, and it’s possible the fictional Grace from Boston loved fitness and dreamed of owning a Peloton bike. But in internet lore, she’ll find new life as a meme.
The company hasn’t issued any responses on social media. Peloton had no comment when reached by CNN.
Peloton and privilege
Past Peloton ads haven’t inspired as much buzz as this one has, but critics have knocked the privileged consumers they portray and market to.
In a thread, a Twitter user who uses the handle Clue Heywood poked fun at all the Peloton ads that take place in million-dollar homes with “panoramic living rooms” and “glass-enclosed zen gardens,” starring thin women and men who don’t sweat as much as they shimmer.
Fast Company speculated that Peloton is “trolling” us all with this 30-second spot, that the brand has weaponized its “lack of awareness” into a marketing tool. It’s lit up online, and PTON stock rose almost 5% on Monday, though whether it’s convincing any of its critics to buy the bikes remains to be seen.
The lack of awareness hasn’t stopped it in the past: The same week the company went public, CEO John Foley told CNN Business that the bike, which starts at $2,245, is “crazy affordable.” That’s about two-thirds of the average rent for a Manhattan apartment, which might be a hard sell for consumers outside the middle class.