On Facebook, writer/author/podcaster Esther Kustanowitz shared her thoughts on the recent controversial Peloton ad.
In case you’re unaware of it, the video ad narrates the life of a wife who receives a Peloton bike as a gift from her husband. When my reply to Esther’s post hit 263 words, I knew it was time to give it its own space.
In a public post, Esther shared this:
Let’s talk about the beautiful mom in that Peloton commercial whose family (presumably her husband) surprised her with exercise equipment for Christmas that she could use every morning in that perfectly beautiful house with an amazing window that perfectly showcases every season as a year goes by. Does she even want a Peloton? Is giving your thin wife exercise equipment a compliment or some kind of negging? Is she in a Black Mirror episode, suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and being forced to record some sort of invisible “progress” to show her husband on the anniversary of the gift? And doesn’t the joy at the virtual instructor saying her name (“Grace in Boston”) seem to reveal a more pervasive loneliness, temporarily lifted? Whereas previous commercials seemed like a free choice opt-in (“this isn’t for everyone…”) this seems like it’s lacking some consent. This commercial is sticking in my craw, and I know I’m not alone, because there are already a dozen articles about this. I’m off to walk to the gym.
Here’s the ad, embedded and linked:
My full reply, slightly edited from the word dump on Facebook:
To me, the woman in the ad seems to enjoy the bike. I think people are watching through the lens of the sexism that people have been more conscious of recently.
I wonder if some smart people at Peloton predicted that the ad would be divisive. Controversy is the best publicity.
The age of outrage
It seems we’re living at a time at which people want to get offended. Society is feeling scrappy. I keep seeing instances of public figures getting in trouble for statements when they’ve said much worse in the past. We’re living in this weird age of outrage.
The anger seems more to be about those reacting to the ad than the ad itself. What insecurities are they projecting?
What bothers me about the Peloton backlash: The public seems only now to be waking up to the sort of marketing that they are interpreting this way. The public seems unaware that fitness marketing — far more offensive than this — existed before Peloton released this campaign. Why now? Is it because of the cultural time we’re in? Is it because everyone’s become more sensitive or critical?
Fitness industry marketing exists to convince people (especially women) that they’re fat and need to exercise so that the industry can sell a solution to a problem that they’re creating through narrative. The ad industry manipulates insecurities through storytelling and messaging. It’s how advertising works.
Every year around the beginning of November (this year it began in early October), I rant about the “new year, new you” messaging. The other element of this is the holiday food shaming, the message of, “You will get fat, so you must exercise and eat this GUILT-FREE food instead.”
I’m on a mission to point out that “guilt-free” has no place in food marketing as often as I can. (But I’m not Jameela Jamil & don’t have the audience.)
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