‘And Just Like That’: Peloton’s SATC comeback was clever but one viral ad won’t fix a crisis

Peloton ad

A screenshot from the Peloton ad. Source: Twitter

Many of us last week set alarms and signed up for a new streaming service to see the reboot of Sex and the City. We conveniently ignored the Dubai movie and hoped against hope it would be the SATC that was once a challenge and comfort for many — something we watched on a Monday night and then talked about over coffees, at water coolers and on the tram. For me the reboot, although sometimes clunky, delivered on much of what I had hoped for with delightful references to the past and uncomfortable conversations.

But from the beginning of this new reboot — episode one showed the Carrie/Big relationship being all the things we’d dreamt it could be, dancing in the kitchen, a buttery wine, lockdown references, and so much talk about Big’s 1000 Peloton ride — we knew it was too good to be true.

Many of us recalled Big’s cardiac issues from season six, so with all this talk of Carrie changing plans to leave him alone whilst he Peleton-ed at home, lingering glances as Big puffed on a fat cigar, more talk of Big’s ride with Allegra the Peloton instructor, climatic, dramatic music as Big powered through his Peloton, we shouldn’t have been surprised Big ended up on the floor clutching his chest.

Peloton had been working with the producers of “And Just Like That SATC”, loaning them the bike, and arranging the use of their star instructor Jess King to play Allegra. I’m sure as the marketing execs were rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of the product placement, they were not aware the character would die after hopping off their product. I can imagine them sitting around waiting with bated breath to see what happened, and then being unable to catch their breath realising the horror of it all.

Overnight shares in the fitness company dropped 11%, although it is important to note that while Peloton was a lockdown success story, its share price has been declining since the reopening of gyms and fitness centres.

As a product placement vehicle, SATC has been manna from heaven; Manolo Blahniks and Magnolia Bakery would never have been household names or cultural references without Carrie and co. It seems to have had the same effect on Peloton, now a household name, but one associated with the onset of a fatal cardiac event.

Peloton’s clever retort

In a matter of days, however, Peloton came back with some product placement of it’s own, as well as serious star power, producing a made-for-the-internet short as a clever retort.

A camera pans into a cosy winter Christmas setting, and lo and behold, here is Big, cuddled up on the couch with Allegra, the instructor. The same classical music playing, toasting to new beginnings, clever comments about how good Big looks and feels, then some borderline risque double entendre on “another ride” because “life is too short not too”. The narrator then quickly outlines the benefits of exercise to cardiovascular health and ends with “He’s Alive”.

I found it all sorts of genius as a piece of entertainment. It was irreverent, funny, and a little bit mean. And perfect as a popular culture comeback.

But as a crisis management strategy? Well, it’s debatable.

It works so well because of the star power; it features two of the cast of “And Just Like That” in the tight camera shot, plus Ryan Reynolds doing the voiceover. Then to reference Big’s history of leaving wives for other women, to be so of-the-moment, to have the same music playing as when Big rode in SATC — it was just so cheeky.

Ryan Reynolds’ marketing company Maximum Effect produced the ad on behalf of Peloton. It was a fast turnover. When the WhatsApp and Instagram DMs were still buzzing with shock, awe and spoiler alerts, the timing of Ryan Reynolds’ “Unspoiler Alert” tweet was perfect. A witty move, adding even more pop culture cred. All of these elements combine to make it a great comeback, and so widely shared already.

But would the factors that make it so good here be available to everyone in a crisis? I’d argue they wouldn’t.

One of the first pieces of advice I give speaking with clients who are being proactive, and planning for a crisis situation like they would any possible daily business event, is to gather your allies, supporters, champions, and people who will support and work on your solutions.

This company was not new to crisis. Peloton called in its big guns. It had significant access to money and people to run such a quick turnaround campaign with this sort of star power. I am sure that there was a lot of behind the scenes Peloton people talking with HBO people, and one could guess that perhaps even HBO gave the ad its blessing as a mea culpa.

Let’s remember this ad is just one prong of the communications strategy Peloton immediately launched and it was not relying its resolution or salvation on this one clever cultural reference.

Peloton immediately released a public statement on the lifestyle habits of the fictional character and had robust, sharable quotes by health and fitness experts.

The company would have been in communication with stakeholders as well as doing rounds of their media contacts. There have already been numerous articles written on the topic of “Why didn’t Carrie call 911” discussing the dramatic death scene and lack of action on Carrie’s behalf. If this had been an issue I was working on, I would have been ringing every popular culture writer and pitching this story. I would have given them a good list of trusted industry experts to give fact-based, pro exercise quotes quick smart, and it seemed this was done.

It’s important to put this ad into a crisis context too. This isn’t the first bit of crisis communications Peloton has had to undertake. In 2019, its marketing department misjudged the appetite for gender equality in a tone-deaf Christmas advertisement, and more seriously in March this year, a child was killed due to an accident on a Peloton machine and other’s suffered significant head injury. I am sure there would be some consumers who already had an issue with the company, and this play with a fatality wouldn’t be so welcomed or entertaining in their households. An ad like this will perhaps play better in a market like Australia where Peloton is new, rather than the US or the UK where they’ve already had enough crisis with the brand.

The reality is, Peloton was able to take this risk as a company because the worst-case scenario was a fiction. It was an Easter-like resurrection around a Christmas tree. Peloton was able to play with death, add some sizzle and double entendre because no one really died. In doing so, it’s banked on our short memories and our love of star power.

To paraphrase, one viral ad a crisis does not fix. It’s a good reminder that a crisis can happen to anyone as a daily part of being in business or having a brand. That’s why it’s important to think of crisis planning the same way as any business planning — so when something happens, if you can’t stand on star power, you’ve at least got your own allies sorted and can be ready to step into action.

Peloton had power, money and a big team behind this clever comeback, but it did not stand alone as a single response to the reputation damage. We can’t all access Big and Ryan Reynolds, but we can all make sure we’ve got our own star power to call on when we need it as one part of our crisis strategy.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments