Navigating a product placement crisis
Even for top marketers and PR pros, it’s a challenge to overcome when your brand or product is cast in a negative light on TV, let alone when it’s seemingly responsible for killing a beloved character on screen.
“Most of the work that’s done in brand integration is actually done before anything goes to camera,” said Meilani Weiss, executive VP of brand integration and content partnerships at California-based agency R&CPMK. She suggested Peloton’s team likely did not ask “the right questions” of the studio to get “the full scope of the integration.”
“If a brand is going to have their IP be used within the content and clear that with a production company, there also needs to be an understanding that nothing disparaging to the brand is happening,” Weiss said.
While the situation Peloton finds itself in is rare—in Weiss’s 20-year career, she said she has not had to do damage control on any such product integration gone awry—it can happen without proper vetting of the production. But as Crockpot demonstrated after consumers started tying it to the fictional death of Jack Pearson, a potential brand crisis doesn’t have to spiral out of control.
“I think a great example of a brand that has thrived rather than just survived in a crisis is Crockpot,” Mark Renshaw, then-global chair of the brand practice at Edelman, told Ad Age following the “This Is Us” house fire episode.
Instead of taking NBC to court as the brand had originally considered, they instead worked with the network to craft solutions, including having actor Milo Ventimiglia—who played the killed-off character—make a public apology video reconciling with a slow cooker, while also defending the brand during an “Ellen” appearance.
In a matter of days, the #CrockPotIsInnocent hashtag was trending, with the slogan also appearing on signs held by fans outside NBC’s “Today Show.” Some even began selling stickers for Crockpots on sites like Etsy that read: “Don’t forget to unplug me, Love, Jack.”
“I think the example of the Crockpot, you know, on the ‘This Is Us’ show burning down the house and killing off one of the stars, I think was an example where we were able to turn a situation that looked very negative into something that got Crockpot back in front of people, changed the perceptions of the brand, and kind of reinvented the brand and the fan base,” Renshaw, who has since departed Edelman and joined Australian hospitality platform SiteMinder as its chief marketing officer, said back in 2018.
Not only did Crockpot’s reputation remain intact, but the brand actually saw a sales lift following the event, Renshaw said, showing that revenues increased by more than $300,000 in February 2018, the next full month after the January “This Is Us” broadcast.
A troubled year
While thankfully Mr. Big’s demise is entirely fictional, this unfortunately is not the first death-related PR situation Peloton has faced this year.
In May, the company voluntarily recalled more than 100,000 treadmills linked to one child’s death and approximately 70 other injuries, despite initially refusing to recall the machines when the Consumer Product Safety Commission first requested that it do so.
Analysts at BMO Capital Markets suggested to Bloomberg News that the “And Just Like That…” storyline is similarly “unlikely to impact sales” of Peloton bikes.
Peloton shares—down 73% so far this year—fell nearly 5.4% to $38.51 on Friday after Credit Suisse downgraded the stock to neutral from outperform. Analyst Kaumil Gajrawala cited concerns such as the return of more in-person fitness, not the show. "To fight slowing demand, the company is increasing advertising and discounting more," Gajrawala wrote.