UPDATE: Dec. 16, 2021: Peloton has pulled the buzzy "He's Alive" ad starring Chris Noth from its digital and social channels. The move follows a report in The Hollywood Reporter where two women accuse the "And Just Like That" actor of sexual assault. Noth in a statement to the publication denied the allegations. Marketing Dive has reached out to Peloton for comment on its decision and will update this story pending a response.
- Peloton turned around an ad on Sunday (Dec. 12) responding to its brand's association with a key character death on "And Just Like That," the "Sex and the City" revival that hit HBO Max last Thursday. Spoilers for the show follow.
- In the first episode, Mr. Big, the partner of protagonist Carrie Bradshaw, collapses and dies from a heart attack shortly after an intense at-home bike riding session guided by Allegra, who is portrayed by real-life Peloton instructor Jess King. Reports surfaced following the premiere that Peloton was not aware of how its brand would be used on the program.
- Peloton quickly linked with Ryan Reynolds' Maximum Effort agency to create a spot, titled "He's Alive," showing Mr. Big actor Chris Noth and King sharing an intimate conversation on a fireside couch, implying the character survived. The video closes on Reynolds reading a voiceover statement about how regular cycling improves circulation, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. It has racked up more than 3 million Twitter views as of press time,
By flipping a potentially unwanted association with the bombshell twist on "And Just Like That" into a piece of creative that is drawing eyeballs and accolades online, Peloton recovered what was shaping up to be a PR fumble thanks to a fast response time. The move speaks to how marketers are under greater pressure to stay on the ball with cultural moments today and must be agile in reacting to those that may affect their public image in ways positive or negative. In the case of Peloton, The New York Times raised the question of whether the company would have grounds to sue, though it doesn't appear the company is interested in pursuing litigation at the moment.
The exercise equipment marketer and Maximum Effort shot "He's Alive" in New York City this weekend, with the project coming together in less than 48 hours, a Peloton spokesperson told Marketing Dive over email. The ad was not created in partnership with HBO Max, the spokesperson confirmed.
While the particulars of Peloton's agreement with "And Just Like That" aren't entirely clear, it seems the product placement was not executed in a way the marketer would have preferred. The response ad emphasizes that regular cycling improves heart health, a bid to create some distance from the fate of Mr. Big, who's shown in previous scenes of the episode engaging in unhealthy activities like smoking a cigar. The character had also experienced heart troubles in "Sex and the City," per the Times.
Peloton could come out the winner of a complicated situation given that the revival series has seen middling reviews from fans and critics. On the other hand, "He's Alive" has impressed some viewers.
"This is gold! Best use of 'bad press' to make a marketing BOMB!," one YouTube comment reads.
Peloton spinning the moment into a marketing win suggests the brand has learned some lessons from its past missteps. An ad it ran around the holidays in 2019 that showed a woman receiving a Peloton as a gift from her husband drew widespread derision, with critics alleging the concept leaned into sexist weight-loss tropes and pointing out a perceived look of distress on the gift recipient's face.
The actress from the Peloton ad — then dubbed the "Peloton Wife" — later starred in a well-received commercial for Aviation Gin, the spirits brand partially owned by Reynolds and marketed with the help of Maximum Effort. The agency, which was acquired by the TV ad-tech firm MNTN earlier this year, has built a reputation for campaigns that successfully capitalize on trending pop culture discussions and play up a self-referential sense of humor.
Some positive PR could buoy Peloton in a tough period. The marketer, which largely targets its products at the at-home fitness community, rode a wave of success in the early days of the pandemic, but has struggled to hold onto that momentum as gyms reopen. In November, the company cut its revenue forecast for the year by $1 billion.