How Peloton's community defended the brand

Cultivate your audience, because you never know when you're going to need it, says Catherine Merritt, CEO of Spool.

Getty Images
Getty Images

In an age when impeachment is the fourth story during the news, when global warming has scientists fearing the longevity of earth as we know it, when analysts are predicting when, not if a recession is coming, it’s shocking that last week’s biggest news story was about a not-so-great Peloton ad.

It flared to viral levels we haven’t seen since the "what color is that dress" meme. In a time when our country is divided over everything, it seemed like a shared hatred for the ad could bring us together.

As someone who has owned, loved and attributed a lot of self growth and improvement to my Peloton, I was conflicted. Not only am I an avid fan, but I also own a marketing agency, so I watched what was unfolding in multiple layers.

A couple years ago, Peloton released one of their first ads about a mom and the complex nature of her life; kids are hard and marriage is hard and there's no way around it. The first time I saw it, no joke, I cried. It spoke to me. It meant something to me. It was me.

If you look back at the larger cannon of their ads, Peloton has harnessed and celebrated stories from their community. They tap into insights they glean from the million-plus and counting Peloton community as well as Facebook groups where there’s never a shortage of chatter, support, feedback and collaboration.

When I first saw the most recent ad, weeks before the viral takedown escalated, my reaction was more "meh" than "off with their heads!"

But while I didn’t love it, I connected with the way the woman’s journey evolved and how she felt a transformation over a year.

I’ve felt that with my own Peloton. Hell, I did a 545 mile bike ride from San Francisco to LA and trained exclusively with my Peloton. I didn’t own a bicycle when I signed up and only did about 40 miles of actual outdoor bike training. So I buy the idea that a year with Peloton can be transformative.

But of course, like all brand darlings Peloton was ripe for a takedown, so taken down they were.

In response, the brand issued a statement that didn’t backtrack, didn’t overly cower in the face of market share losses, but rather, defended it and said they were disappointed that people didn’t understand.

When I first saw that, my crisis PR muscle memory kicked in and I was slightly horrified. But I also understood what they were doing. They were in the midst of launching a new social-impact campaign, a new Amazon partnership and like the hustle-driven unicorn they are, they kept moving forward.

Peloton trusted its community. They knew the majority of the negative chatter was from people who weren’t going to be their consumers and who don’t get what the brand and its experience is. And because they’ve built and cultivated a powerful community, versus focusing solely on a product, that came back to their favor.

Almost as soon as the negative virality began, the Peloton community jumped to the company's defense. From thousands of posts and comments in support of Peloton, to rebuttals on CNN and other outlets, Peloton’s investment in their community paid back dividends and kept the brand moving forward.

It’s a great lesson for companies to learn: value, invest in and cultivate your audience because you never know when you’re gonna need them to go to bat for you.

Catherine Merritt is CEO of Spool.

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