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How Brands Can Seize Cultural Moments


How Brands Can Seize Cultural Moments

As is typical of our times, Peloton’s recent holiday ad has stirred up a bit of controversy. The negative buzz has impacted the brand’s stock price at least in the short-term, but as we have seen with many episodes featuring the “outrage orchestra”, once the orchestra plays its tune, the stock seems to come back to normal.

For those who have missed it, the Peloton ad is bad. But not as sinister as it’s being made out to be. Sure, there is the outdated stereotype of a man getting his 116-pound wife a product to help her lose those last four pounds, which she nervously and obsessively documents for him (Is this 1982?). But if you view the spot through the lens of just a bad, out of touch, brief produced inside of an un-diverse echo chamber, it’s hard to get too bent out of shape. I know several people who have been gifted Peloton’s and they love the product and did not interpret the gift as a subtle hint from their partners that they needed to slim down.

All that said, what is inspiring about the ad is the response it elicited from Aviation Gin, partly owned by actor Ryan Reynolds who is not only had a stake in the brand, but is himself a master of social media memes. Quick to seize on the opportunity, Aviation Gin hired the actress now known as “Peloton Wife” to mock the commercial in a way that has gone even more viral than the original, bad Peloton ad. And while some un-funny people have cautioned that the image of binge-drinking to solve problems is not healthy, it’s funny. It’s a parody. It’s a meme.

Now, not many brands are part-owned by leading Hollywood mega-stars with next-level meme skills, but there are lessons that can be learned.

  • Stay tuned to cultural moments. We are in the era of the “clap back”. We see insults, barbs and missteps being seized by politicians and brands to seize on gaffes in order to make a point. We’ve even seen some brands like Netflix, having fun with other brands as they create viral moments. Wendy’s and Steak—Umm are also brands to look to.
  • Be quick to mobilize. We need to lose the mindset wherein brand is a holy cathedral that only brand managers can understand. Viral moments are spontaneous and unpredictable. Your creative team needs to be empowered to take chances and entertain ideas that may come in faster than a full brief can be written, passed through approvals and green-lighted. And internal teams should have enough flexibility to be able to seize on moments without having to justify every decision with an elaborate pro-forma.
  • Don’t fear the jab. It turns out, that calling out a gaffe, either directly or indirectly, can be a good way to rally consumers to your cause and, as shown with the Aviation Gin ad, increase share of voice. Work with creative teams that are intelligent, witty and opportunistic.

Peloton’s bad ad and Aviation Gin’s response should remind all brands to pay attention and think quick. When customers are outraged by one thing, they are likely open to brands that are sympathetic to their outrage, providing a unique window in time to break through.

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