God (and your husband) will be watching: The failed Peloton Christmas ad campaign

Unless you have been living in a cave, or a part of the country in which your brother’s spouse is considered inheritable property, you probably know that Peloton has landed on the “most-hated” list for gifts this Christmas, thanks in large part to the ad shown above.

Social media users have skewered the ad for its gender stereotypes, its use of a “gender normative” set of characters and its generally creepy “God is watching” vibe:

Peloton is so far sticking by its widely mocked holiday ad. The spot, called “The Gift that Gives Back,” continued to air Tuesday evening on networks including ESPN, Lifetime, Bravo and HGTV, according to ad-tracking service iSpot, even as criticism grew.

The ad, about a woman whose husband gifts her an apparent life-changing exercise bike, sparked a gender backlash that clearly clashed with any seasonal cheer the brand was expecting.

“It’s a complete male fantasy ad,” says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist, noting that the spot could inspire men to be “gifting heroes” and get “skinnier spouses.”

A Peloton costs between $2,250 and $2,700, depending on which package you buy. That’s pretty pricey for something destined to become a high-tech clothing rack. It’s probably even more expensive when you factor in the therapy you’ll need when the instructor starts screaming at you to work harder or in the case of this parody, your divorce:

A good friend who is a feminist scholar nailed the Peloton ad in a way I couldn’t:

She is already fit and she documents every minute for him as if he is watching her every move. Look at her face. At the end she says her life is so much better but there is no evidence given why her life is better, except that she gets up before dawn when she doesn’t want to so she can ride some bike for him. No one should do such things only because another person wants them to.

After I read that post, I went back and rewatched the ad. I noticed things like the look on the wife’s face on day one: It’s a mix of fear and “I hope to please you.” The fact she records every day for the purpose of eventually showing him the video at the end is freakish. The fact that she seems to be biking at all hours seems obsessive. The daughter seeing her already-thin mom biking like a maniac provides a strange modeling behavior. Also, what the hell was the guy doing all this time? Is he in a room full of TVs watching her like Billy Baldwin in “Sliver?”  At the local bar getting fat on beer and pork rinds, because, hey, it’s not like he has to worry about his waistline.

Holiday ads for high priced items tend to really lead to awkward advertisements. The Kay Jewelers “Woman who is scared of lightning and needs man to protect her” ad stereotypes women in multiple ways. Also their slogan of “Every Kiss begins with Kay” seems to imply, “Wanna get laid? Buy her some jewelry!”

Pick any Lexus ad that involves a big red bow and you essentially can see even more awkwardness. If you want to step past the fact it’s pretty much always some rich handsome dude buying some trophy wife woman an overpriced Toyota with better hubcaps, you can still see some real creepy in this ad:

Not sure what they were going for here. “Lexus: Bring out the little girl in your wife.” Eeew.

If the maxim, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” is true, Peloton is getting a heck of a lot of value out of body-shaming a stick-thin woman. People are debating the ad online and morning shows are running it on a constant loop to give it an official “tsk tsk.”

However, the truth probably is that the company did more harm than good to its brand. The stock price, which got a quick uptick after the ad went viral, has since gone back down, in a slide some are calling a “nightmare.” Also, any guy who picked up a Peloton in November thinking, “She was asking about this thing. I’m a great guy for getting it.” is now swearing up and down to Citibank that this was a fraudulent charge.

Maybe the only person who came out of this with any benefit was Monica Ruiz, the wife in the commercial, who scored another gig based on her role:

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