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How a fake death gave a real brand a heart attack

And just like that, the fake world causes a brand crisis in the real world and maybe another small step into the Metaverse.

On December 9, the first episodes of Sex and the City reboot “And Just Like That…” were released on HBO, and ranked as HBO Max’s best debut day of any series.

The show was another in a series of reboots of much-loved TV programs that have come back to life … often with mixed results.

Still, the incredible ratings were great news for HBO but unfortunate for popular high-end indoor exercise bike company, Peloton.

What does a fitness company have to do with a fictional TV show?

In the season premiere, the main character’s on-again/ off-again partner, Mr Big suffered a heart attack and died after a high-intensity session on his Peloton trainer.

Less than a day later, Peloton’s share price was down 11%.

Yes, you read that right: the death of a fictional character resulted in the plunge of a real-life fitness brand’s value.

As if brands don’t have enough to worry about

The powerful influence our favourite celebrities and sporting stars impose on product value isn’t a new concept. In fact, the emerging trend of social media influencers is instrumental in shaping marketing and communications today.

But does Peloton’s recent suffering suggest brands should place tighter restrictions on where their logo makes an appearance?

The tip of the iceberg

In Peloton’s case, the decision to be involved in the show seemed a simple one — high levels of consumer interest, the right target market, millions of dollars of free advertising. It’s no wonder a spokesperson for the company said they gave the go ahead for the use of a Peloton bike in the show — although they said they were not told about how it would be used.

And why wouldn’t you say yes? The logo appearing on a popular tv show for a few seconds can’t cause any harm?

But if your logo is the tip of the iceberg, your brand is the entire thing.

Your brand is the entire experience a customer has with your product or service. It’s the overall perception that comes from every single touch point an individual has with your company.

These touch points cover things like the visual elements, the personality and messaging of your brand – all elements that need to remain the same to help build consistency and trust with consumers.

And because your brand is a combination of the real and the perceived, the physical and the emotional, it can be harmed when one of those pillars is shaken.

Before December 9, Peloton was known confidently by consumers as a fitness brand, promoting a healthy and active lifestyle amongst consumers. The whole brand hinges on the health of indoor cycling, with taglines like:

“Discover an immersive cardio experience that will keep you coming back for more.”

So, when poor old Mr Big had a heart attack as a result of his session, it’s no surprise consumers were left talking (and tweeting.)

How the big brands do it

Apple is a seriously impressive example of strict rules around product placement.

In 2020, film director Rian Johnson revealed Apple is in full support of using their products in films – but only if it’s the good guys.

We apologise if we’ve just spoilt every single mystery film for you from here on in, but it’s the truth. Apple refuses to have its products used by a villain.

The reality is, if people see James Bond in an Aston Martin enough times, they start subconsciously associating the brand with a highly intelligent, masculine and charismatic superhero type. The same works the other way – villains use Androids.

What does this mean for the future of brand marketing?

As we venture into the world of Metaverse, Facebook’s virtual meld vision of the future, it’s worth noting that this is far from the only time that a fictional event has prompted real-life responses, even irrational ones.

Some are positive, like the ability of a TV show to encourage people to get health checks, but some are harder to explain, like the bizarre Ting Hai effect, which supposedly sees a sudden and inexplicable stock market fall every time actor Adam Cheng appears in a film.

Maybe the Metaverse isn’t so far away. The Peloton response 

In case you’re wondering how Peloton have handled the rollercoaster of landing the product placement, seeing the death, weathering the Twitter shame and managing the share price plunge, well, Just Like That, things got worse.  

They raced out a clever ad to market that made light of the negative coverage, starring Chris Noth, the actor who played the infamous Mr Big. A husky voiceover, one of the characteristics of the show, took the opportunity to note

“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.” 

The swift response received a positive social reception… but we can’t share the ad with you, as it had to be pulled a few days after release once sexual assault allegations (which Noth denies) became public.  

And the share price? As of writing it was back up again, as the cycle of good and bad publicity rolled along.  


About the Author

Glenn Langridge is Cannings Purple’s Head of Digital, involved in all aspects of digital strategy and campaigning. Glenn helps clients achieve their goals through smart use of social media, digital tools, and the latest platforms.

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