Who Greenlit This? An Open Letter To Fitbit: This is Not Super

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Dear Fitbit:

I really must ask: who greenlit this?

I was enjoying a relaxed Monday evening in front of my DV-R watching the second episode of Supergirl, “Stronger Together,” when a Fitbit commercial aired. The Fitbit ad campaign commercials are usually lively and clever—I see them all the time during The Walking Dead. One airing during Supergirl ought to be really cute, I thought.

Sadly, I was to be disappointed. Worse than disappointed, really. I was to be offended so badly that it threw off my whole night. I was so stunned by the ad that I didn’t even stop to hit the fast-forward button. I know that the point of advertising is to get people talking about the product, but this ad would not have made me rush to my computer to order a Fitbit. It might have even made me consider cancelling an existing order.

The soul song, “100 Days, 100 Nights,” by Gabriel Alexander Roth and sung By Sharon La Faye Jones is not credited in the ad. Strike one. That’s really simple courtesy these days! Shazam makes it easy to auto link to “find out more” about the product and the song at the same time! Missed opportunity, there, Fitbit.

What else bothered me about this particular ad that’s been out since May? Watch for yourself:

If you’ve watched the video and are shaking your head wondering what I’m up in arms about? Here it is, broken down:

ACT ONE

Bearded Hipster Boy walks down the steps of his cute little San Francisco home, only to pause and check his Fitbit as he descends. Heart rate: 76 ♡. He looks up again, and—there she is. The slim, athletic white girl in her jogging outfit, ponytail bouncing as she moves, and you know that ♡ stands for more than Hipster Boy’s resting heart rate. It means he’s in luuuuuuuuuuv. He immediately breaks into a run after her, but she quickly outpaces him within half a block on 19th street, leaving him breathless and dejected on the sidewalk.

Is it all over so soon? Has Jogger Girl left Hipster Boy behind, forlorn, loveless and lost?

ACT TWO

Another shot of the Fitbit with a new, higher heart rate of 174 ♡! Cue the movie training montage! Hipster boy has decided to get in shape! Situps holding bricks—oh, no, wait, they’re ponderously heavy books. Rapid running in place in his apartment because, y’know, even though he’s a skinny Hipster Boy, he’s too out of shape to take the hills of San Francisco just yet.

Look at him doing situps in the grass, checking  the Fitbit to see his progress. Sweating! Actually sweating! Look at him suffering in the name of love! Watch in amazement as he progresses to being able to carry a heavy bag up the stairs while running! He’s turned his bike into a stationary bike and his heart rate is at 160 ♡! All while Sharon croons soulfully about it taking 100 days and nights to know a man’s heart!

And ooh, a clothes-changing-as-he-jogs one shot to show us he’s even come so far as to be brave enough to show himself exercising! in! public!fitbit-joggerwoman

ACT THREE

The next time Dream Jogger Girl shows up, the excitement builds. Hipster Boy is actually able to pace her on an uphill incline as she checks her heart rate on her own Fitbit. He looks so hopeful, so excited! A slow smile starts to light his face. Will he and Dream Jogger Girl finally connect over their mutual “love” of fitness?

No. Jogger Girl cockblocks him with her smug smirk as she takes to an incredibly daunting flight of stairs without missing a step; he barely makes it up the first few before having to stop…breathless and dejected and watching with incredulity as she prances off without him. Again. Poor, poor Hipster Boy.

EPILOGUE

You can get a Fitbit ChargeHR. Advanced fitness tracking. Now with heart rate.  Maybe you can have a shot at a Jogger Girl, too.

Why does this ad make me angry? Why does this ad make me angry that it aired during Supergirl? It’s no secret “sex sells,” and the ad world’s been running on that two word philosophy since forever.

Because the ad company that made it for Fitbit wants us to think of this commercial as a thirty second romantic comedy without deeper criticism, that’s why. The ad company that made it doesn’t think viewers will even notice the toxic messages that were in those thirty little seconds they put in a commercial for a show about a woman with superpowers who saves the day. Worse, because misogyny and sexism are so entrenched, the ad company may not have even noticed those toxic messages. Worse still: if any women involved with this ad noticed, they either said something and were overruled, or said nothing to keep the job—because that’s how it works on Lexington Ave. I almost went into Advertising, and you have to be as ruthless as Cat Grant to make it.

This ad makes me angry because either no one at Fitbit noticed or cared that although the Hipster Boy is supposed to be sort of pathetically and comedically out of shape, the actor doesn’t even look a little bit out of shape. He looks like your standard issue commercial pretty boy. The fat hate is so prevalent that we can’t show a genuinely out of shape person actually getting into shape. We have to start with an in-shape pretty boy. The “before” looks just like the “after!” Instead, color is used to make him look more like a “loser” at the beginning—dull greys move to brighter colors and more skin showing to show his “improvement.”

fitbit-hipsterboyIt makes me teeth-grindingly angry because we’re supposed to sympathize with feckless, shy Hipster Boy because he worked up the nerve to approach the Jogger Girl not only the first time, but then worked up his body and his nerve to do so again, only to get smacked in his ego again. Pride goeth before a fall, Hipster Boy. Awww. Poor Hipster Boy who can still trudge home and lick his wounds in his San Francisco townhome.

But what really, really sends me into a rage that makes me wanna bend steel with my bare hands and change the course of mighty rivers is that this ad tilts hard for Hipster Boy and makes Jogger Girl out to be the villain for not even slowing down her pace to give him a chance. She doesn’t even give him a smile for working hard enough to finally keep up with her! All she does is smirk when she moves onto the next leg of her route that’s still way too hard for him. What a mean woman, implies the ad. The ad sets her up for men viewers to mutter “bitch” under their breath. The ad sets up men to hate women who just want to do their daily run without being hit on. This ad makes it easy for men to recall and mentally substitute any woman jogger they encounter in real life for ad Jogger Woman, remember how she blew off  poor Hipster Boy who tried so hard, and expect the Jogger Woman they see before them to do the same. Which will lead to rationalizing justified anger and possible retaliation. You’ve given us a mini-movie where the creepy guy is the hero, aired in the first commercial break of a show where a woman is the hero? Really?

No, wait. That’s not it. What really sends my fury right into levels that would make She-Hulk, Thor, Furiosa, and Garnet stop and stare is that Jogger Woman’s got agency, and it’s made out like a bad thing. She jogs her same route every day, knowing full well that she’s got a genuine creeper actively scoping out her route, and actively working to try accosting her on it. She refuses to let that stop her, scare her, or make her change her route. There is nothing in the ad applauding Jogger Woman for her courage. There is nothing in the ad recognizing that she owes Hipster Boy nothing of her attention—which she did grant him by acknowledging she knew full well he was trying to hit on her by way of trying to match her run, and wordlessly sending him the message, “nice try; maybe you’ll be worthy of my attention when you can keep up with me” rather than “stop being a creeper.” There is not a woman on Supergirl—Kryptonian or human—who would tolerate a guy pulling a creeper move like Hipster Boy does. For that matter, most of the men on the cast would call bro out for acting like a creeper as well; even Winn, who’s proud of his mad sewing skillz. I understand networks like their ad revenue, but maybe try tailoring the ad to the show a little better next time?

It wasn’t cute. It wasn’t funny. It didn’t belong anywhere near Supergirl, and it sure as hell didn’t belong near the feminist audience the show is openly courting. It sent terrible messages to male and female viewers alike. So I ask again: #whogreenlitthis, Fitbit? I demand: show me, show all of us, that you can and will #dobetter, Fitbit.

I’m not just “some random feminist blowhard.” I’m a customer. I am a woman and I own a Fitbit.

I do not want to be ashamed to be seen wearing it.

I sure as hell don’t want to be considered a potential Jogger Girl by any J. Rando Creepster who happens to notice me wearing it out in public. Nor should any woman have to consider that concern when she steps outside with her Fitbit.

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About Author

Jamie Kingston is a Native New Yorker, enduring a transplant to Atlanta. She’s a lifelong comic fan, having started at age 13 and never looked back, developing a decades-spanning collection and the need to call out the creators when she expects better of them. Her devotion extends to television, films, and books as well as the rare cosplay. She sates her need to create in a number of ways including being an active editor on the TV Tropes website, creating art and fan art, and working on her randomly updating autobiographical web comic, Orchid Coloured Glasses. As a woman of color, she considers it important to focus on diversity issues in the media. She received the Harpy Agenda micro-grant in November of 2015 for exceptional comics journalism by a writer of color.

2 Comments

  1. I had seen this commercial once before your article but I got a different impression of it. That is of course, not to say one opinion is more correct than another but simply that I read the ad differently. On my first watch and now watching it before and after reading your article, I think that while the creepy guy is the protagonist, he is not a hero. And I particularly don’t think the audience is supposed to turn on the woman. At the end, rather than muttering at her I was shaking my head at him.

    As you point out, the guy is creepy in his attempts to chase after her. He is interested in her but since they have no other connection he chooses to physically pursue her. She is the goal to his exercise but to her, he’s just a random stranger. If you look again, at the beginning, she does not look at him (she has her eyes and head forward the entire time) and is not aware of him until he tries to pass her while she’s slowed and distracted by her own Fitbit. She is exercising, as far as we know based on the presented material, for herself.

    Note that when they encounter each other at the end, they are not outside his house, so we cannot say that she is taking the same route or what her decision to take that path means. I also don’t think we can say that she knew he was trying to hit on her when they meet for the second time; she is aware of someone trying to pass her, she smiles, he passes her, she speeds up and turns in front of him. She is only aware of him as someone (foolishly) trying to outpace her.

    The tagline “Know Your Heart” is working on two levels: 1) “know your heart in the physical sense” which can be extrapolated to “know your body,” and 2) “know your heart in the emotional sense” which is “know what you want.” The man and woman are each operating on both levels but she is more successful. He knows what he wants but does not know his own body or capabilities (and he certainly doesn’t know hers). While she knows her body (smiles knowing she can pass him and do what he cannot) and what she wants (not him).

    I don’t think we supposed to interpret the ad is a romantic comedy but instead just a comedy.

    Regarding his body and transformation, I’m not sure why you write that “Hipster Boy is supposed to be sort of pathetically and comedically out of shape[.]The fat hate is so prevalent that we can’t show a genuinely out of shape person actually getting into shape.” The transformation is from someone who doesn’t exercise to someone who does. He’s not going from fat-to-thin but growing stronger. There are many people with that body type who would not be able to run that fast for that long. Do you mean that the ad should have actually had an actor get in better shape over the course of filming? I’m sure this was filmed over a few days and as you pointed out, used acting and wardrobe to illustrate the transformation.

  2. Adam, I must thank you first and foremost for a well reasoned and thoughtful response.

    I’m grateful that you were shaking your head at him. But it has been my experience that media tends to treat women as the reward a guy gets for going through his quest, and to portray any woman not on board with that as the villain. So I will cop to that influencing my take. But speaking as a woman, I’ve known personally and read about far too many woman who have been followed, harassed or chased by strange men who were “interested” in them. That’s scary and creepy.

    As for where they are when they meet again, they’re either close to his house, or Hipster boy is even a bigger creeper than he appears, having figured out or closely followed her route to know where else on any given day he might find this particular woman in a city the size of San Francisco.

    I’d still maintain the chase imagery, the heart imagery and the song choice imply it was a romantic comedy left with enough of an open ending that maybe he will get fit enough to make it through that whole route, saving his ego and possibly winning him the attention of the woman he’s been chasing. But I hope not because literally chasing her is still creepy.

    I was thinking they could’ve put a weight suit on the actor and removed it to show him getting into shape. That’s barely even much difficulty for Hollywood, but kind of undermines the purpose of the product.