Is Peloton’s New Ad Sexist?

Some say Peloton's new ad is sexist (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Some say Peloton's new ad is sexist (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Peloton was slammed yesterday for releasing a new ad that was deemed sexist. The ad triggered jokes and parodies on Twitter and led to a 6% drop in Peloton’s stock price. Is it really sexist for a man to purchase exercise equipment for his wife?

In the ad, a husband purchases a Peloton stationary bike for his beautiful and slim wife. The wife is oddly nervous as she tries the bike for the first time, and she also seems to be suffering when she wakes up at 6 a.m. to exercise on the bike. I interpreted it as bad acting, but a USA Today headline read, “Someone please help the woman from Peloton’s awful new ad,” and a Vice headline claimed, “The Peloton Ad Woman Is Absolutely Not OK.” There’s no question that the portrayal of the woman is odd, but is the ad sexist?

The main beef with the ad is that the man purchased exercise equipment for his wife. The interpretation is that the husband wanted to improve his wife’s physical appearance in some way—and some think it’s worse that she already looks fabulous. In a widely-shared parody of the ad, comedian Eva Victor ends up divorcing her fictional husband that purchased the bike for her. When asked what she thought about a husband buying a Peloton for his wife, actress and comedian Sherri Shephard told TMZ, “Don’t go trying to change me now.”

The women in the ad’s odd behavior toward the bike was interpreted as desperation and fear to get in shape to please her husband, who was seen as sending her a message by gifting the bike. If that’s what the ad was going for, then, yes, it’s sexist.

Peloton denies the sexism and claims there are plenty of people who liked the ad. “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,” a company spokesperson told CNBC. “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.”

So, is exercise equipment gifting off-limits for both genders, or is it only OK to gift exercise equipment to men? One easy test of sexism is to reverse the roles. What if the wife had purchased the bike for the husband? Is that equally insulting? Stereotypically, men are perceived as valuing attractive wives more than the other way around. That stereotype is so ingrained, that it can impact the way we view the ad. If she had purchased the gift for him, the interpretation might have been that she cared for his health and longevity. We’ll never know.

Still another issue with the ad is the purchase itself. If the husband is purchasing the gift, does that also imply that he’s responsible for the family finances? At a list price of over $2000, the Peloton is a significant purchase. Much like the automobile ads where one spouse surprises another with a new Lexus, the Peloton ad did leave me wondering about how the couple navigate their finances. It certainly doesn’t suggest an equal partnership where large purchases are discussed and agreed upon by both parties.

The complaints about the ad are almost endless. One Twitter user even complained that the Christmas tree in the ad was placed too close to the couple’s fireplace. But I am surprised by the level of negativity regarding the gifting of exercise equipment to a spouse. It’s not like the husband enrolled his wife in Weight Watchers. Obviously, this is a sensitive area, and the lesson learned is don’t gift your spouse exercise equipment.

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Peloton was slammed yesterday for releasing a new ad that was deemed sexist. The ad triggered jokes and parodies on Twitter and led to a 6% drop in Peloton’s stock price. Is it really sexist for a man to purchase exercise equipment for his wife?

In the ad, a husband purchases a Peloton stationary bike for his beautiful and slim wife. The wife is oddly nervous as she tries the bike for the first time, and she also seems to be suffering when she wakes up at 6 a.m. to exercise on the bike. I interpreted it as bad acting, but a USA Today headline read, “Someone please help the woman from Peloton’s awful new ad,” and a Vice headline claimed, “The Peloton Ad Woman Is Absolutely Not OK.” There’s no question that the portrayal of the woman is odd, but is the ad sexist?

The main beef with the ad is that the man purchased exercise equipment for his wife. The interpretation is that the husband wanted to improve his wife’s physical appearance in some way—and some think it’s worse that she already looks fabulous. In a widely-shared parody of the ad, comedian Eva Victor ends up divorcing her fictional husband that purchased the bike for her. When asked what she thought about a husband buying a Peloton for his wife, actress and comedian Sherri Shephard told TMZ, “Don’t go trying to change me now.”

The women in the ad’s odd behavior toward the bike was interpreted as desperation and fear to get in shape to please her husband, who was seen as sending her a message by gifting the bike. If that’s what the ad was going for, then, yes, it’s sexist.

Peloton denies the sexism and claims there are plenty of people who liked the ad. “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,” a company spokesperson told CNBC. “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.”

So, is exercise equipment gifting off-limits for both genders, or is it only OK to gift exercise equipment to men? One easy test of sexism is to reverse the roles. What if the wife had purchased the bike for the husband? Is that equally insulting? Stereotypically, men are perceived as valuing attractive wives more than the other way around. That stereotype is so ingrained, that it can impact the way we view the ad. If she had purchased the gift for him, the interpretation might have been that she cared for his health and longevity. We’ll never know.

Still another issue with the ad is the purchase itself. If the husband is purchasing the gift, does that also imply that he’s responsible for the family finances? At a list price of over $2000, the Peloton is a significant purchase. Much like the automobile ads where one spouse surprises another with a new Lexus, the Peloton ad did leave me wondering about how the couple navigate their finances. It certainly doesn’t suggest an equal partnership where large purchases are discussed and agreed upon by both parties.

The complaints about the ad are almost endless. One Twitter user even complained that the Christmas tree in the ad was placed too close to the couple’s fireplace. But I am surprised by the level of negativity regarding the gifting of exercise equipment to a spouse. It’s not like the husband enrolled his wife in Weight Watchers. Obviously, this is a sensitive area, and the lesson learned is don’t gift your spouse exercise equipment.

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Inspired by my prior career developing quantitative trading strategies for Morgan Stanley, I’m now trying to solve women’s issues at work—including the wage gap and sex

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