Meet actress Monica Ruiz and actor Sean Hunter, the actual human beings who portray the “Peloton couple” in that company’s much maligned commercial. This post is NOT about the commercial. If you haven’t figured out what I am really addressing by the end of the post, I invite you to sign yourself up for a low rung on the stupid ladder.
Ryan Reynolds is a really good looking actor, married to Blake Lively, a truly classy looking actress. More importantly, they are both really smart and funny, so smart that Reynolds recruited Ms. Ruiz of Peloton’s controversial commercial to star in an ad for his Gin Company, Avalon. The clip begins with her looking into the camera in silence for nearly twenty seconds as “Grace in Boston”-Ruiz-sits with her friends at a bar. She then says, “This gin is really smooth.” Her friends then reply that they can get her another one and that the bar that they are in is a safe space. (Safe from what, or probably from whom…..perhaps her “Peloton husband”). Then they toast to new beginnings. Reynold’s ad is a riff on the social media “firestorm” the otherwise straightforward commercial caused on social media last week. For those living in Greenland or Madagascar who have not seen the commercial, it goes like this: A young woman (who is addressed by her virtual Peloton instructor as “Grace in Boston”) with eyes closed, on Christmas morning is led into the living room by her daughter. When she opens her very doleful eyes, there in front of her is a ($2,245) Peloton bike, the gateway drug to a $39/month subscription to interactive exercise videos. “Grace” gradually begins to use the bike, while vlogging the whole process in short Instagram-esque videos, and gradually becomes more accustomed to the Peloton “lifestyle” (everything’s a lifestyle, even where you put your sexual organs). The commercial ends with “Grace” showing a compilation of the videos to her husband, as a sort of thank you (?) for motivating her by buying the bike. ‘A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me,’ Grace eventually proclaims in the video. Critics of the ad were incensed that she was thin to begin with, and they couldn’t see the changes (maybe she meant the consistency of her exercise habit). Wouldn’t they would have been more incensed if “Grace” started out wearing a “fat suit” (or heaven forbid, if she were really obese)?
Viewers trashed the ad on Twitter, calling it sexist, misogynistic, humiliating and cringeworthy. Others have knocked the privileged consumers they portray and market to (gee, the pitchforks and torches would really be out if the ad had been for their $4,295 treadmill!). Inc. Magazine weighed in with, “It’s the ad that launched a thousand diatribes and a million page views of horror. Surely no one has remained unaware of the Peloton ad in which a woman who stares stricken at the camera, apparently trapped in her marriage, attempts to show delight that her husband has bought her a Peloton. Something that’ll help her lose perhaps two pounds from her slight frame. Oddly, Peloton has stood by the ad, claiming its intent has been misunderstood. But when millions misunderstand the problem may, in fact, be yours.” Inc. Magazine used to be a reputable business tome, but apparently couldn’t resist the lure of clickbait hyperbole. No Inc., when “millions” see a facial expression of an actress in a commercial and, forgetting that they are watching actors, make up a whole story about what the expression means, and feed the stories with archetypes of oppression, it’s not the commercial nor the actors who have the problem—it’s the supposition that your own fantasies and mind reading of motivations are real.
The poor guy in that commercial is now saying that his part could actively damage his career, which is not what you want from a small part in an ad for a stationary bike. Sean Hunter, a Canadian actor and gym teacher, says he’s glad he filmed the commercial and that his friends and students know his true character. I have seen the ad countless times during televised football games, and I would not even recognize him. If he is truly worried about a career hit, it would probably be due to the blood sport of the Internet age—being turned into a meme, which then outlives him. For their part, Peloton is sticking by their ad and saying that they found nothing troubling about the entire endeavor. The Female Quotient CEO and #SeeHer co-founder Shelley Zalis opined that many users were likely taking the message of the commercial the wrong way. “It’s just about being healthy,” she said. “I think that we need to not go overboard with micro sensitivity in just assuming because a man gives a woman an exercise bike, that insinuates it’s to lose weight.” Shelley, it ain’t about micro sensitivity, it’s about having something else to get outraged about, for those whose lives lack meaning otherwise. Of course, old line media, desperate for eyeballs, cannot let an opportunity for hyperbole go to waste.
From the Washington Post. An Internet that rarely agrees on anything was seemingly united on this one thing: The Peloton ad was downright dystopian. It was spousal abuse, viewers cried. It was sexism, a descent into wellness hell, society’s “nightmare before Christmas.” Many ascribed misery to “Grace,” imagining she had been forced into spinning her days away on her husband’s behalf like some kind of millennial Rumpelstiltskin story. Cosmopolitan magazine piled on with 17 Things To Give Your Husband When He Buys You An Unsolicited Exercise Bike, which include boxers too small, a toupee, a gym membership, a one way ticket to Hawaii for one, two concert tickets for an artist you like but he hates, sex toys, a book called How To Be An A-hole Husband and Lose Your Wife, spanx for men and deodorant! The unsubtle subtext is, “how dare you imply that I would enjoy a very expensive, trendy exercise bike (you miserable troglodyte).” If “Grace in Boston” (Ruiz, let’s not forget) was so unhappy, why did she immediately whip out her cellphone to take exercise selfies? I assume that Cosmo knows it’s readers, and that they would much rather have a list of snarky, husband-shaming doodads than any hint of appreciation for him, that stinking misogynist!
CBS News is reporting that the ad has cost the company and its shareholders $1.6 billion, but that contention is just part of the sensationalist reporting. The stock hit a high of $36.84/share on December 2 and on December 5, was $31.31/share, $1.6 billion less in market cap. Since the company’s IPO at $22.40/share just happened at the end of September, and the stock “lockup period” (during which insiders cannot sell IPO shares) expires February 24, 2020, and significant fluctuations of any stock soon after an IPO are normal, it is silly to ascribe drops or gains to an ad. Critics are saying that the ad was sexist, “classist” and promoted unhealthy body image. As for the “$1.6 billion loss”, at the end of the day, Peloton is a gym membership pretending to be a tech company. Peloton faces the same problem that keeps every gym owner up at night. People just don’t stick to a workout schedule. Peloton is built on a business model that breaks even on the bikes with the hopes that big money is made on recurring monthly fees for digitally distributed classes. However, with the average gym losing 50% of members within the first year, even the best technology hasn’t proven it can keep people engaged long term. Peloton’s IPO was a smashing success, but at an IPO valuation of $10 billion, the company will have to literally take over the market for investors to avoid a loss. To justify a valuation of $10 billion, 40% of U.S. households with a gym membership would have to own a Peloton, up from 3% today. Is it any wonder that the ad makes a big deal of “Grace” vlogging her workouts? That’s what they hope customers will do!
Let me disabuse some notions that make folks stupid: 1. Your thoughts about what someone’s facial expression means, your impressions of their motives, and the story you make up about their lives might all be bunk, and unless you establish a dialogue with them, you will never know. Whatever you invent says way more about your life than theirs. 2. If it’s on TV, especially if it’s a commercial, it isn’t really happening, even if it seems to bear a resemblance to real life events. 3. If you find yourself getting upset over your fantasy of someone’s motivations or the story you’ve told yourself about their lives, you need to take a serious look at your life. 4. Hold yourself to higher standards in everything than you expect of others, or prepare to be very disappointed.