It looks like one of the smartest turnarounds of a project in advertising history.
Warning: A spoiler containing the name of the Sex And The City character who dies appears shortly.
Shares of Peloton Interactive, the interactive fitness platform provider, plunged by 11.3% on Thursday and a further 5.4% on Friday – a cumulative decline of more than 16.1% – after a major character on the TV series Sex And The City was shown dying after using one of its exercise bikes.
Mr Big, played by the actor Chris Noth, was shown having a heart attack after an intense work-out.
As its shares went into freefall, Peloton sought to play down the incident, pointing out that the character’s “extravagant lifestyle” had probably contributed to his death and suggested riding his Peloton bike may actually have “helped delay” his heart attack.
The company had known its bike would be used in the new show and even allowed one of its instructors, Jess King, to appear in it – although it had no idea it would be involved in the death of a character.
And, towards the end of last week, it clearly decided more needed to be done to restore confidence in its service and products.
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Accordingly, it put out a tweet on Sunday evening, “And just like that…he’s alive”. It contained a video showing the actor sitting in front of a fireplace and Christmas tree alongside Ms King.
And just like that…he's alive. pic.twitter.com/bVX8uWypFZ
In the video, he says: “I feel great. Shall we take another ride? Life’s too short not to.”
The video concludes with a voiceover from the Hollywood actor, Ryan Reynolds, who tells viewers: “And just like that, the world was reminded that regular cycling stimulates and improves your heart, lungs and circulation, reducing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
“Cycling strengthens your heart muscles, lowers resting pulse and reduces blood fat levels. He’s alive.”
The advert, which was also produced by Mr Reynolds’s company Maximum Effort, was apparently put together very rapidly.
Denise Kelly, senior communications lead at Peloton, told Variety: “Working with Ryan Reynolds and his marketing company, Maximum Effort, we filmed a spot with actor Chris Noth and Peloton instructor Jess King. We filmed the spot in New York City this weekend and the entire project came together in less than 48 hours.
“Maximum Effort was recently acquired by software company MNTN and Peloton was an early hand-raiser to be a part of MNTN’s new Creative-As-A-Subscription service. This enabled both teams to quickly together to produce this ad.”
The advert is seen as being an adroit piece of footwork from Peloton, and particularly given one of its previous advertising campaigns.
An advert called “The gift that gives back” was pilloried two years ago for being sexist. It showed a woman receiving one of Peloton’s bikes on Christmas morning and her subsequent video diary in which she praised the bike for changing her. Critics pointed out that the woman was already slim at the beginning of the advert, and deplored the implication that her partner thought she needed to lose weight and become fitter.
On that occasion, shares of Peloton fell by 9%, with the company later stating it was disappointed at “how some have misinterpreted this commercial”.
Ironically, Mr Reynolds’s Aviation American Gin – which was subsequently acquired by Britain’s Diageo – made an advert of its own spoofing the Peloton ad, showing Monica Ruiz, the actress in the Peloton commercial, raising a martini glass and uttering the words “to new beginnings”. As she took a swig of her drink, a friend told her: “You’re safe here.”
Aviation American Gin’s advert was later named one of the best of 2019 by the industry publication AdWeek.
Peloton’s swift response is likely to go down well on Wall Street, as some analysts had fretted last week that the Sex And The City episode would damage the brand.
Simeon Siegel, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, had told clients last week: “Although unlikely to impact sales, it does question whether Peloton is losing degrees of control over its storytelling, perhaps its greatest achievement to date.
“Although all PR is supposedly good PR, it’s hard to ignore the changing tide in Peloton’s public perception.”
Shares of Peloton were ahead by 3% in pre-market trading on Monday.
The company’s response looks likely to go down in the annals of advertising history of how to turn a possible setback into a victory.
Other examples include the response, a decade ago, from easyJet to a British Airways campaign called “High Value Flying” that had been seen as an attack on low-cost carriers. Easyjet’s advert, lampooning the BA slogan “To Fly To Serve”, was taglined “To Fly To Save”.
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Another, seven years ago, saw the brewer Heineken publish a follow-up after viewers scoffed at a TV commercial called “The Odyssey” in which 20 men displayed unusual talents including dancing, diving and impersonating a seagull. Viewers doubted that the men in the advert were genuine, and so it released a behind the scenes casting video to prove that they were. This won the company plaudits.
The Peloton advertisement is also in a long tradition of using fictional characters to promote products.
Cartoon characters Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble were seen promoting a host of products, including Kentucky Fried Chicken and even Winston cigarettes, 60 years ago.
Some intellectual property owners react badly when actors appear to be trading off their success in a film or TV series.
For example, when Minder star George Cole began appearing in advertisements for the Leeds Permanent Building Society’s Liquid Gold savings accounts in the early 1990s, it was made clear to him that the character depicted in the advert should not be confused with his TV character Arthur Daley. He had to swap Arthur’s trademark camel hair coat and trilby for a sheepskin coat and a flat cap.
But it seems unlikely, given the way Peloton was not told of how its bike would be used, that HBO, the maker of Sex And The City, will react in the same way to its use of Mr Noth.