On December 3, 2019, the home spin bike brand Peloton released a 30-second commercial that sparked enormous controversy online. Almost as soon as the commercial was released, Peloton’s name was dragged through the mud as the entire internet joined hands to hate on the video advertisement. The company’s shares fell by 9 percent that day.
The commercial was released exactly a year ago today, and what a difference a year makes. After a year where we all started working out at home and had much more important things to worry about, the Peloton commercial certainly hits different.
Seriously, try to put yourself in the mindset of someone living in 2019 and getting mad online because of a Peloton commercial. We had no idea what was coming for us. We were all so innocent, then.
Who Was the Peloton Wife? The Commercial That Launched a Million Tweets
Peloton made a lot of enemies with the simple, 30-second ad spot, which featured a wife being gifted the $2,000 bike by her husband, documenting her fitness journey and ultimately thanking him at the end for “changing” her. To be fair, it was kind of a cringe-y commercial, with viewers calling the commercial creepy, sexist, fat-phobic (the woman in the video is thin) — you name it.
At the time, the backlash was severe. The main actress, Monica Ruiz, who no one had ever heard of, suddenly was at the receiving end of a barrage of negative Tweets and messages and given a new nickname — the “Peloton Wife.” (A name that I consider pretty sexist, but I’ll dive into that more later on.) The husband in the ad was also donned the “Peloton Husband” and called sexist, misogynist and a “symbol of the patriarchy” — again, charges I believe are harsh. The ad was also parodied repeatedly online and even spoofed on SNL during their presidential coverage.
The ad caused such a stir that celebrities got involved. Ryan Reynolds infamously released a commercial answer for his own brand Aviation Gin, where Ruiz plays a wife who’s drinking with two friends at a bar — drowning her sorrows in swigs of his tasty liquor. It was a very clever piece of viral marketing.
Peloton stood by the ad despite the backlash, noting that they were “disappointed in how some may have misinterpreted this commercial.” The company said at the time, and continues to say, that people can change their lives through fitness, and I believe this theory.
So let me be clear — besides some awkward direction, there really isn’t anything wrong with the advertisement itself. There is absolutely no depiction of the idea that the Peloton Wife “needs” to lose weight or that her husband gifted this to her in any way as a judgment. It’s a quick story that concludes with her having changed her life through exercise and fitness — something that anyone of any size can do. She never expresses a desire to change how she looks for her husband. Quite frankly, the response to this advertisement was more sexist and evocative of these ideas than the commercial itself. I mean really — “Peloton Wife?” You know better than that, Twitter.
The idea that a woman can’t exercise except to lose weight for her husband is also insulting, and that a husband can’t gift his wife anything fitness-related without it being a condemnation of her looks is a depressing reflection of how quickly our society assumes the worst. Basically, there was a whole lot of projection going on in December 2019.
“Regardless, it’s Peloton who’s having the last laugh, because as it turns out, a Peloton was actually the perfect gift heading into 2020.”
Yes, the bike is expensive and the woman in the commercial is thin. Is Peloton the most accessible fitness brand out there? From a financial standpoint, definitely not. However, is it their obligation to be? I also don’t think so. If you can’t already tell, I’m a Peloton user, and I acknowledge how privileged I am to be able to afford a piece of fitness equipment as expensive as this bike. However, I will also note that I saved up for this bike because I knew what it could do, and I believe in the mission of the company. I still do to this day.
Regardless, it’s Peloton who’s having the last laugh because, as it turns out, a Peloton was the perfect gift heading into 2020. Who could’ve expected that a company that was the laughing stock of the internet at the end of 2019 would turn out to be tailor-made for the hellscape that was 2020? In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Peloton has seen its stock soar 350 percent.
Once the shelter-in-place orders were put into place and gyms were closed, what did everyone want? That’s right, a Peloton. The Peloton bike and treadmill were suddenly back-ordered for months and sales have surged 172 percent as there was a run on home fitness equipment.
Find Something You Love as Much as Peloton Wife Loves her Peloton
So, what is the lesson here? The internet is always going to do its thing — mainly, looking for reasons to be mad online — and every piece of content published is opening itself up to potential criticism. Whether you’re a major company producing a simple Christmas commercial or some rando writing a tweet — producing content is entering into a discussion with billions of strangers you have no control over. However, I believe that criticism should always come from an empathic place that’s well-researched and thoughtful — not blind hate.
I also think this commercial’s anniversary is a pretty good touchstone for the kind of transition we’ve all gone through in 2020. This year has turned everything on its head — Peloton’s reputation included. I’ll admit that I fully drink the Kool-Aid of their program and have become an addict during the quarantine. But I also fully believe the brand had good intentions with the ad. The Peloton Wife was not trying to offend or hurt anyone, but simply communicate excitement about working out.
After the year of controversies we’ve had, the idea of getting angry about this ad is laughable today. Our society has gone through the gauntlet this year, and I believe, like the Peloton Wife, we’re going to come through stronger on the other side. That being said, I think it’s time for my 30-minute pop ride.