It’s a fitness bike. But you wouldn’t guess that from the strong feelings their Christmas ad for the bike is causing. If you missed it, here’s a recap of the commercial: Husband buys expensive stationary bike complete with virtual trainer. The wife is surprised and thankful. She’s also nervous to start the program because it’s said to be intense. But the ad’s story has a happy ending: Peloton Wife nails her first ride. For me anyway, the ad screamed “boss babe!” The video felt palpably positive. Unlike most of us who make resolutions around this time of year, Peloton Mom sticks to her Peloton plan — even documenting it on social media as she reaches her goals. Peloton Mom’s line at the end is, “When I got this bike, I never knew how much this would change me.” You can parse that out for yourself. I’m just glad the TV Peloton Couple got their money’s worth. (The most basic model of the bike sells for $2,400.)
Social media skewered the 30-second spot. The lens through which millions of people saw the ad—I’d call it a weight-loss-meets-resolutions lens felt dated. Critics wrote in comments all over social media, things like, Why would Peloton show a mean husband hinting to his wife to lose a few more inches off her already great shape? What started on Twitter soon landed on local media channels. The backlash was everywhere.
We are a divided country these days. But can Americans at least use this as a moment to be more human? Here’s some news to consider:
1. Invest in your health. That’s a solid message. According to the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) people with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. People with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions. You can make a case that Peloton Mom is stressed or anxious a lot of the time and with that bike, Peloton Dad wanted to invest in her mental health. (The idea of investing in your health is so big that the World Health Organization compiled an Investing in Mental Health:Evidence For Action report.)
2. Exercise isn’t punishment. What if I told you that exercise has the power to reduce stress, boost confidence and ward off insomnia? Or if I told you that exercise may be even more effective than medicine for treating depression when combined with other therapies? It’s all true. To the 2.3 million people who watched the ad and assumed it was an ill-spirited hint that the woman loses weight? Get over it. The dystopian theorists crack me up. I can see the slight Black Mirror aspect of the ad. But the commercial doesn’t say the bike is for shedding pounds. And come on, it had some entertainment value considering some of the other mental health ad alternatives. Would you like to go back to watching commercials where sometimes it’s tough to even know what the product is because there are too many butterflies and smiles in the photo? Not me.
3. Exercise can be a magic drug for depression. Peloton’s leadership took a few for the team yesterday, but they’re probably not worried. Their product and its value are clear. The bike has a one-year retention rate of 96% — that’s huge, despite its high price. When people are addicted to something, they’ll pay to have as much as they can. Bring on the magic drug of exercise for mental health.
4. Total body fitness at home makes sense, especially for parents. Ok, Boomer, yes, exercise used to be plain and simple: Just get on a bike and head outdoors. I can hear the “back-in-the-day” in my head as I type. True, it’s somewhat alarming that busy people would want to document their fitness journey on their phones for thousands of followers. Then again, I’m a Gen Xer. But doing something regularly to maintain good mental health and physical shape is crucial irrespective of your generation.
5. Loneliness is widespread. Study after study shows that loneliness is taking a toll on our health. Peloton has created a community of a million subscribers who hold each other accountable for staying on track. In 2016, they ran a homecoming event in New York to promote community and they plan to do more. Bonus points for Peloton.
Finally, let’s admit that Americans are profoundly broken when it comes to weight and body image. As early as 2010, studies showed that doctors should be prescribing fitness for better health, calling it a magic drug for treating depression and anxiety. The mind and body are connected. So Peloton disrupted the fitness business and blew up social media for a day. May more wearables and virtual communities be under your tree this year. In 2020 customers need every possible reason to buy and act healthfully. The cost of poor mental health to this country is expensive, destabilizing and detrimental to the bottom line. Let’s fix it.