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Furious backpedaling: the Peloton ad controversy

'Wow, that was fast.'

That was the initial reaction to the Peloton ad that 'resurrected' Chris Noth, or more accurately Mr. Big, after the Sex & the City character died shortly after using the famous stationary bike.

I saw articles praising the rapidity with which the ad was produced, and wondering if this set a new norm for the advertising industry in terms of turnaround.

And just like that... the narrative changed.

Very serious allegations have been made about Chris Noth.

Allegations that are horrifying.

So much so that Peloton has pulled the ad from circulation.

This was a smart move.

But it does raise a few questions.

In particular, is there value in capitalizing on or responding to a major social or pop culture event that is unfolding or has just happened.

There can be, depending on the approach and tone you take.

The problem is that I think we are so eager to join or shape a narrative that we do not think of the potential complications.

I can think of several instances of brands issuing tweets in the midst of unfolding news, or to mark a historic event, that just feel tonally off or brazenly opportunistic.

This situation is somewhat different.

To a certain extent, this situation--the allegations against Noth--was something somewhat harder to predict.

And yet, it wasn't.

Just look at the news over the past couple of years.

I could cite several examples, but a quick Google search will indicate that Noth is far from an isolated individual in terms of alleged, or real, awful actions and behavior.

Featuring a celebrity in an ad campaign always comes with a considerable risk.

Because as well as we think we know them, we really don't.

Tying your brand to someone famous has as much potential to elevate it as it does to tarnish it by association.

Does that mean you don't respond to a fictionalized death associated with your product?


But it may mean taking a little more time or effort to think about how you do it, and to really consider the risks involved, as far-fetched as they may seem.

And taking time to vet the content and talent involved.

It isn't possible to get everything right.

But it is possible to limit your exposure to reputational damage.

In short, sometimes, instead of racing toward something, you need to stop and catch your breath.

That is not just a lesson for Peloton, but for all of us.


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