Extensive planning, hard work and big money go into making commercials. Though it can be hard to tell, based on how frequently these endeavors go spectacularly wrong, despite all the effort that went into them.
The typical arc of a bad ad — like Pepsi’s 2017 misfire staring Kendall Jenner, suggesting street protests will dissolve into happiness if only we toss back enough Pepsi — ends with the company pulling the commercial and apologizing. Which Pepsi did. But its stock didn’t tank.
The same can’t be said for Peloton, the exercise equipment company whose “The Gift That Gives Back” commercial not only drew waves of ridicule but is blamed for Peloton stock dropping 15 percent, losing $1.5 billion in market value over three days.
The offense isn’t glaring. It’s subtle. At first glance, the 30-second spot seems no different than any other commercial where gorgeous hubby gives gorgeous wife a gorgeous something for Christmas.
A guy gives his wife an exercise bike, she’s happy. What’s the problem?
The devil is in the details. Two stand out: First, the rail thin arm the wife extends as she takes a selfie, announcing, “First ride.”
Second, her fear. In a saucer-eyed close-up she confides, “a little nervous but ... excited.” Viewers compared it to a horror movie.
Peloton forgot the sop. You know the sop, like in that GMC truck commercial, “One for You, One for Me.” Here, too, a guy gives his wife a gift: a red SUV, half of a pair of trucks. Only she rushes to his blue pickup. “I love it!” she cries, draping her body defensively over the vehicle. When he tries to explain, she insists “I love it!”
This little distaff rebellion inoculates the ad from the presumption and privilege of a husband springing two vehicles on their household (what must that relationship be like?)
When you can’t win the big battles, you fight the small ones. Based on the reaction to the Peloton commercial, you’d think we weren’t a nation where the president is a groping sexist pig, paying off porn stars and repeatedly accused of assault. You’d think state legislatures weren’t hacking away at the reproductive freedom of all women, fit or flabby.
What can anyone do to change that? Not much, right now. In the meantime, we can beat up the makers of a $2,250 stationary cycle for suggesting it’s still 1957. Here sweetie, you’re kinda fat, hit this bike for a year, and maybe I won’t dump you for the babysitter.
Peloton’s value tumbled, and even the actors in the commercial find themselves under fire. Sean Hunter, the Canadian schoolteacher who plays the Peloton husband was so savaged— “The literal embodiment of the patriarchy, who may never work again based on this role,” a Twitter pitchfork waver opined — he felt the need to defend himself in a statement:
“I pride myself on being a great teacher and developing actor, and I can only hope that this affects neither. I’m grappling with the negative opinions as none of them have been constructively helpful.”
Meanwhile, the actress playing the wife has already starred in her bounce-back commercial for Aviation Gin. It begins with her shell-shocked face, no doubt stunned from the dissolution of her marriage to her body-shaming spouse. She’s flanked by two concerned friends, a big honking martini in front of each. An awkward silence.
“This gin is really smooth,” the Bride of Peloton finally says, as her friends nod in unison.
“We can get you another one, if you like,” says a pal, preemptively. They toast.
“To new beginnings.”
The soon-to-be ex-wife tosses back her martini.
One supposed friend slides her own fresh one in front of her.
“Take this, too,” she says.
“You look great, by the way,” one coos.
If you showed both commercials to a feminist theory class on Mars and asked which would cause trouble, my hunch is they’d pick the one where enabling friends funnel 10 ounces of gin into an emotionally troubled 110-pound woman.
But the mob is neither fair nor predictable. Tempests over commercials hark back to Sayre’s Law about academic disputes, which applies double to social media: “The arguments are so bitter because the stakes are so small.” All publicity is good publicity, and the bottom line is, whether Peloton commercials are great or lousy, I’m never buying one and neither are you.