Over the last month or so, Peloton has been featured in two popular television shows, Sex and the City and Billions. Both times, the plot line depicted a main character having a heart attack either during or right after their Peloton workout, painting Peloton and the use of their exercise bikes in a negative light and leading to the brand needing to reassure their customers that using their machines won’t lead to heart attacks. In one of these cases, Peloton even experienced a dip in their stock price.
This sounds juicy! What happened?
The first time this happened was back in December 2021, when the first episode of HBO Max’s Sex and the City revival aired and depicted the beloved Mr. Big (Carrie Bradshaw’s husband, played by Chris Noth), dying of a heart attack after finishing an intense workout on a Peloton bike. Shocked and saddened by the loss of this character, viewers began to wonder whether they were at risk of such a fate, and Peloton experienced a dip in their stock price.
This fictitious storyline put the brand in a position where they needed to proactively defend themselves and reassure customers that using their exercise bikes contributes to a healthy lifestyle, rather than one that puts them at risk of Mr. Big’s fate.
Note: Peloton responded well to this situation. In fact, their response is an exemplary use of the Crisis Ready Formula for Responding to Emotional Escalation. A deeper dive into this case study is available to Crisis Ready Institute members.
Cut to this past week when Billions aired their season 6 premiere episode and one of the main characters, Mike “Wags” Wagner (played by David Costabile), also experiences a heart attack while riding his Peloton.
In both cases, Peloton was blindsided
With the Sex in the City episode, Peloton reportedly knew they were going to have their product placed in the show, though due to confidentiality clauses, they had no idea under what context their brand would be used.
Lesson 1: When it comes to the use of your brand image, ask questions, and never assume that someone else’s narrative will be positive or flattering.
As I state in my book, Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, I disagree with the adage that all publicity is good publicity. A misrepresentation or misuse of your brand that creates doubt in your consumers, risks creating a loss of market trust, drops your stock price, and disrupts your day (or longer) with the need to address the issue and reverse or mitigate impending damage, does not equate to good publicity!
Peloton should have asked questions. They should have insisted on knowing the plot line and given themselves the opportunity to decide whether this was the storyline that they wanted to be a part of. This was within their right to do.
Empower your people to ask the right questions so you, as an organization, can make informed decisions in alignment with your objectives and the brand image that you want to portray.
Lesson 2: Don’t use someone else’s brand or IP without their consent. Train your teams to have this awareness and create systems that make it foolproof.
With the scene from Billions, Peloton claims that they did not give the show any form of permission to use their brand or product. After the show aired, Peloton was quick to release a statement on Twitter saying they “[…] did *not* agree for [their] brand or IP to be used on @SHO_Billions” nor did they “provide any equipment”.
If this is true, what were the creators of Billions thinking? How could product placement without consent have been given the green light for production and airing? Talk about needlessly opening yourself up to lawsuits and risk!
Mistakes like this happen for different reasons, including a lack of awareness and a lack of preventative protocols stemming from idea-conception to production and launch.
It’s important to educate and create awareness around these types of risks and exposures with everyone from your marketing and communication teams, your PR team, your creative teams, your sales team, your social media and customer service teams, and so on.
Furthermore, as human error is always a risk, create protocols and systems within your processes that support collaboration across departments and skillsets, and put preventative measures in place.
Lesson 3: Know that things like pop culture, and societal issues, trends and controversies present their own forms of risk.
Whether we’re talking about someone’s favorite character on their favorite show, a favorite celebrity, a social cause that matters deeply to them, a cultural, religious, or political issue that they identify with, and so forth, people (i.e., your consumers, clients, and other stakeholders) have an emotional connection with each of these things to varying degrees. These emotional connections bear influence and there’s always a risk of this influence being used to your detriment, whether wittingly or as a knock-on effect.
Used against you, this influence can lead to doubt or distrust, which can have a material impact on your brand equity and your bottom line. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the world, how it may or may not relate to your brand, products, services, values, and stakeholders, and the potential risks and opportunities that can emerge from them.
Lesson 4: Keep your eyes and ears always perked and create systems to help you achieve this.
The longer you take to respond to a threat, risk, or negative incident, the more ownership of the narrative you lose, the more trust you destroy with your stakeholders, and the more material consequences you risk suffering. At Crisis Ready Institute we refer to this as the Crisis Response Penalty (CRP).
The good news is that the CRP is preventable so long as you’re in a position to detect, assess, and respond to an incident effectively and in real-time. This all goes back to actively instilling a Crisis Ready Culture whereby your entire organization has the right mindset, skillset, and capabilities to transform challenges into opportunities.
How to use these 4 lessons to your advantage
The lessons I’ve shared within this post do not only apply to a situation where your brand is misused. They apply to multiple aspects of your Crisis Ready skills and capabilities, and you can use them to strengthen your organization’s Crisis Ready Culture.
So, where do you go from here? A good step forward is to consider the following questions. Bring them to your teams, answer them together, and then put those answers into practice.
- What are some current societal trends, issues, and controversies that can impact your brand in one way or another? Have a brainstorm session where you list these out and then, together, identify both the risks AND the opportunities that they may present.
- Do you have guidelines and policies that define proper use of, and association with your brand? As you create these policies, think about everyone and everything from customers and clients to partners and collaborators, to product placement, etc.
- How strong is your real-time media, social media, and real-world monitoring? When something is detected, what is the protocol and is every team member aware of their role and responsibilities within this protocol?