Ads and the City

Spoiler Alert


If you have been watching the news lately you may have spotted a very unfortunate Sex and the City product placement. I have never seen an episode of Sex and the City in my life and if I’m being honest, until the moment I wrote this blog, I was convinced the show was called Sex in the City. Anyway, I have been told to warn you guys that this may contain spoilers, so don’t blame me, read at your own peril if you are a Sex in th… sorry, Sex and the City fan.


So apparently a man named “Mr Big” suffered a heart attack and died after his Peloton exercise bike class, held by a fictional teacher named Allegram, who was played by one of the company’s real-life instructors, Jess King. Peloton were aware that their product was to be placed in the episode, which I am sure was exciting for their marketing department at the time, that Big Man, or whatever his name is, would be using one of their products. Hence why Peloton approved the Sex and the City product placement. What they didn’t know, however, was that he died right after attending this fateful exercise bike class. Let’s go Peloton!


It transpires that Peloton were not aware of this plot line and had unknowingly approved this very unfortunate product placement. I’m sure any of the company’s executives watching the episodes had their hearts in their mouths! Apologies for that awful pun. Anyway, it seems that major shareholders of Peloton may be in danger of suffering the same fate as this “Mr Big” this morning if they wake up and check their portfolios, with Peloton’s share price suffering as a result of this blunder, wiping a further 11% off their value, in a year in which Peloton’s shares have dropped 73% the U.S. reopening saps potential demand for at-home workouts.


Of course, this is all fiction and the show even shows the guy smoking a cigar before he hops on his bike, suggesting that it wasn’t the overpriced exercise bike that killed Mr Big, it was his lifestyle. However, for Peloton, this plot line has reminded many of the tragic incident of a child dying on one of their treadmills earlier this year. As per Bloomberg, “Although unlikely to impact sales,” said analysts at BMO Capital Markets, “it does question whether Peloton is losing degrees of control over its storytelling, perhaps its greatest achievement to date.” Further highlighting the importance of ownership and awareness of one’s brand communication and strategy.


What other brands have created a massive marketing blunder?


This is why it is baffling that Peloton would have not vetted the storyline beforehand, to ensure it aligns with brand values and so on. We must reiterate, that this is why it is important to have a defined communication strategy for your business and not desperately jump into an emerging trend or mindlessly latch on to a random, emerging opportunity. So, today is likely not the day to tell Peloton’s marketing director that there is no such thing as bad press. Anyway, this Sex and the City Peloton product placement debacle reminded us of some mindless advertising blunders from over the years and we thought it would be a good time to remind you of them and the general importance of maintaining a coherent brand strategy that is true to your business.


Pepsi, Kendall Jenner advert


First up is the infamous Pepsi, Kendall Jenner advert. In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests across the United States, tensions between protestors and police were reaching boiling point and Pepsi most certainly did not read the room. Presumably to latch on to the most important discourse in the nation at the time, the beverage company produced an advert with these protests in mind. What Pepsi served up was an ignorant mess of an advert that many saw as trivialising the entire movement. The advert shows attractive protesters holding signs and uniformly smiling, laughing, clapping, hugging and high-fiving. In the ad’s climactic scene, a police officer accepts a can of Pepsi from Kendall Jenner, a white woman, setting off raucous approval from the protesters and an appreciative grin from the officer. Who knew that all that was needed to stop police brutality was to hand a police officer a Pepsi. Pepsi subsequently apologised and pulled the advert and stated that they were “trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding and that “clearly, (they) missed the mark and apologise.” As we all know, it is so important for a carbonated beverage to uphold global peace and unity.


Bud Light remove “no” from their vocabulary


Next up, another beverage blunder. The worldwide purveyor of bad beer, Bud Light, thought it would be a good idea to remove the word “no” from their vocabulary. This inevitably led people to suggest that this looked like Bud Light were promoting rape culture and it begs the question, how did no one spot this? Of course after a while the campaign was rescinded but this again highlights the need for self reflective behaviours in marketing departments.


Heinz Ketchup


On to some funnier examples, German resident Daniel Korell decided to scan the QR code of his Heinz Ketchup bottle during lunch. Little did he know that the QR code on the bottle had expired. Heinz had not renewed the URL registration, and it was picked up by another website. However, this website happened to be a pornographic website and Korell was redirected to a porn site. He found it funny and posted in on Heinz’s Facebook Page saying that this ketchup was probably not for minors. Heinz apologised to Korell and he also received a one-year membership from the pornographic website. They say sex sells so maybe this was not such a fail for Heinz, but still, when you are sat around the breakfast table next to your parents and you decide to scan the QR code on the front of your ketchup bottle, I am sure this is the last type of website you want to be met with.


Dove Real Beauty Campaign


Finally, beauty brand Dove, back in 2015, started the campaign for Real Beauty that was met with a lot of positive feedback. They then thought they would take it one step further and this proved to be one step, maybe ten steps, too far. They installed two doors in front of a building, one said average and the other said beautiful. Women who were entering the building had the choice to choose which door they wanted to pass through. Most were choosing the average option however in the middle of it some started choosing beautiful. The hashtag that was used to promote this campaign was #ChooseBeautiful which was again clashing with their original campaign. Dove claims to be all about empowering women however, this one may have missed the mark. The lesson here is to be consistent with your branding and communication strategies.




Finally, McDonalds UK in 2017 thought it would be a nice idea for a young boy to reminisce with his mother about his late father, with one of his fond memories being his father’s love for filet o’ fish sandwiches. The Golden Arches were accused of using grief to peddle their burgers and they soon pulled the advert and apologised. This was a senseless advert featuring an even more senseless taste in burgers from the boy’s father. I mean seriously, who orders a filet o’ fish from McDonalds?


Focus on consistency


Jest aside, the sudden market response to Peloton’s Sex and the City botched product placement shows the power that marketing can have both positively and negatively, to a business. It is also a perfect example of why one must place so much focus on a powerful and consistent brand, marketing and communication strategy. Deploy these strategies symbiotically with your business strategy and your results will be the total opposite of Peloton, promoting healthy growth for your business, fail to do so and you will leave a sour taste in your audience’s mouth, a taste that is probably rather similar to a Filet o’ Fish.


If you want to understand more on how you can correctly apply your brand through your marketing and communications channel get in touch here, or learn more here.

    Subscribe to our thinking
    By providing your details you are agreeing to our privacy policy.