Susan Tompor: Peloton's controversial bike ad stirred immediate reaction when I watched it
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Susan Tompor: Peloton's controversial bike ad stirred immediate reaction when I watched it

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Detroit Free Press Money section columnist Susan Tompor.

Detroit Free Press Money section columnist Susan Tompor. (Jessica J. Trevino/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

A week ago while winding down from Thanksgiving weekend, I turned to my husband shortly after seeing what's now turned into a firestorm of a TV commercial and quietly said: "Don't get me a Peloton."

His quick response: "Here is the good news: It never crossed my mind."

The exchange between us seemed so funny that I immediately tweeted it out on Dec. 1 and have since gotten 19 likes. Who knew that a simple exchange between two people who have been together for more than 25 years could be so telling?

And really, who knew that America would get so worked up over a Peloton commercial?

Peloton Interactive made big news when its stock dropped 9.12% on Dec. 3 to close at $33.48 a share, down $3.36. The stock fell 1.55% on Dec. 4 to close at $32.96 a share, down 52 cents.

The stock appeared to take a hit after social media exploded about the latest lush holiday Peloton ad featuring a gorgeous young woman who tells the story of her harrowing year-long journey to get up at 5 a.m. and ride that exercise bike that her husband gave for Christmas. Spoiler alert: She's still in great shape.

Secretly, of course, much of America would love to be as wealthy as the couples in these ads, which show the high-end exercise bike set in a House Envy-worthy home with rich wood floors, lots of open space and art work. No dirty jeans or ratty sweatshirts hang off these bikes.

Secretly, of course, you can imagine the ad folks writing some Peloton commercials tongue-in-cheek. The public has been mocking these ads on Twitter for more than a year already. USA Today posted a string of Twitter comments zinging Peloton on Jan. 29. One particularly inspiring Tweet stated: "I took my Peloton bike to Europe and used it on the balcony of our $2,000/night Airbnb and honestly I felt like I was flying over London, you should try it."

Now, though, the latest ad hit a real #MeToo nerve, triggering accusations of sexism.

One woman tweeted: "I think what bothers me about the Peloton ad is the look on that woman's face throughout the commercial, like she's apologizing for her very existence on this earth."

Yes, it is just a commercial for an overpriced exercise bike. Yes, we've seen this nonsense before. Remember, those Carl's Jr. ads a few years ago that used busty blondes to sell burgers?

Even so, the timing for Peloton remains tone-deaf, like an advertising story board pitch presented in a board meeting long before movie producer Harvey Weinstein became synonymous with sexual misconduct, long before Larry Nassar went to prison for the sexual assault of minors, long before Kid Rock's drunken tirade against Oprah Winfrey at his bar in Nashville went viral, crossed the line and caused a few more people to say enough is enough.

Face it, Victoria's Secret has even canceled its slinky holiday runway show this year, months after it was learned that Leslie Wexner, CEO of L Brands, was a close friend of the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Somewhere along the line here, you wonder when women will be treated with more respect.

The Peloton ad - while tame - still leaves you questioning what just happened there.

Did we just watch a commercial for a luxury brand that featured a man who was somehow dictating how a woman should feel about herself? Why does he get to tell her how long she should be able to sleep? Or even suggest how she could work harder to look better?

Really, yet another message that helps to erase the self in self-esteem?

Merry Christmas. Happy holidays.

Smart husbands, of course, will stay as far away from this one as possible.

It's wonderful to be able to be there for your spouse. I am personally spoiled rotten by a husband who frequently drives me a few miles to my nightly exercise classes. Some nights, I might not go if I didn't have door-to-door service. I'm close to racking up 230 classes in 2019. A record that will make our family Christmas letter.

Even so, there are limits here.

When we first married, I once told my husband to never, ever buy me a vacuum cleaner or blender for a gift - even if it somehow seemed like I wanted one. If taken the wrong way, you could end up paying for years.

The same is true with the Peloton deal. You'll be paying for it long after the tree hits the curb, one way or another.

To afford a Peloton bike, you're likely going to need an installment plan.

You could pay $2,245 upfront for the indoor exercise bike that can stream a live gym experience into your home. Or you could pay by the month, like you would for tires or appliances.

Peloton has a "Ride now, pay over time" plan at 0% APR. No money down.

The plan enables you to break those payments into 39 months - a bit longer than a three-year car loan - at around $58 a month. The price does not include taxes or accessories.

The Peloton membership fee will set you back by another $39 a month.

Sexist or not, it's a whole lot of money.

One bike is more than most families will spend during the entire holiday season.

On average, consumers plan to spend $1,048 on holiday gifts this year and other items, according to estimates by the National Retail Federation. The estimate breaks down into $659 for gifts for family and friends, $227 for food and decorations, and $162 for non-gift items for yourself or your family.

What do people want for the holidays? According to the industry trade group's research, here's a breakdown:

52% of adult consumers want clothes or accessories

35% want books or other media

29% want consumer electronics or accessories

18% want sporting goods or leisure items

24% want decorative items for the house

17% want tools or home improvement items

23% want jewelry

59% want gift cards

21% want beauty products

7% want other items

Many people, of course, do want fitness-related gifts, Lululemon pants, Manduka yoga mats, Bowflex weights, you name it, maybe even soon-to-be-released "Christmas" Nike LeBron 7 sneakers.

And yes, many will be thrilled to treated to a luxury exercise experience, such as a Peloton bike - especially if you've got an ocean view outside the backroom window.

Yet it may not be as easy selling four-figure exercise bikes, as you might imagine, and maybe that's playing into the stock selloff, too.

"Fitness equipment sales will be challenged for Holiday, as consumers are choosing clubs over ownership," wrote Matt Powell, senior industry adviser for sports at the NPD Group, in a November blog.

He predicts a "challenged holiday season for sports retail."

Powell noted, though, that NPD doesn't measure Direct to Consumer businesses like Peloton.

In general, Powell told me that the target customer for Peloton is an upscale city dweller. And he could see the Peloton bike being given as a gift.

Even so, he too thought the Peloton ad "seemed tone deaf to me."

Social media experts will quickly tell you that tone deaf doesn't work in what's become a "cancel culture." But really, it's far more than dwelling on buzzwords here.

It's about treating people with respect and building long-term relationships.

Peloton's earlier message has been: "On the most basic level, Peloton sells happiness."

Happiness is good; body shaming, not so much.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at stompor@freepress.com.

Visit Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com

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