Did Ryan Reynolds Just Save Peloton From a Horrible 2022?

The actor and his agency Maximum Effort created Peloton's viral response to "And Just Like That"

Ryan Reynolds at a recent WSJ event.
The king of "fastvertising," himself.
Photo by NDZ/Star Max/GC Images

Peloton responded so quickly to last week’s cardiac arrest heard ’round the world that some have started to question whether the whole thing was a publicity stunt.

To review:

  • Last Thursday, Sex and the City’s HBO Max reboot And Just Like That dropped its first two episodes.
  • In the premiere, beloved character Mr. Big (Carrie Bradshaw’s husband) suffers a deadly heart attack after an all-out session on his Peloton bike.
  • Twitter explodes, reacting both to the loss of a protagonist who’s been around since the 1998 pilot, and the sudden discovery that Peloton bikes can kill you(?!).
  • Peloton’s market share subsequently cratered, plunging 11% the morning after Big’s “death.”
  • The company was forced to release a statement from its in-house cardiologist, who argued that Big’s “extravagant lifestyle” likely precipitated the heart attack, not his exercise bike, which “may have even helped delay his cardiac event.”

Then … this happened:

In the ad, which dropped on Sunday afternoon, all of 50-something hours after the first two episodes of And Just Like That were released, Big is very much alive. Actor Chris Noth sits next to a fire with Jess King — the real Peloton instructor who plays a fictional Peloton instructor within the show (named Allegra) — and offers up a toast: “To new beginnings.” She tells him he looks good, he asks if they should have another ride. The whole thing is extremely sexual.

But he’s referring to the bikes behind them, of course. As the camera pans away, a voiceover from Ryan Reynolds (in the style of the “symptoms” portion of a medication commercial) says: “And just like that, the world was reminded that regular cycling stimulates and improves your heart, lungs and circulation, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. Cycling strengthens your heart muscles, lowers resting pulse and reduces blood fat levels. He’s alive.”

The entire ad is absolutely pitch perfect. For those who haven’t watched the show, Carrie (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) makes jokes about Big falling in love with his Peloton instructor, even calling her a “whore” in the first episode. Having Big apparently elope with Allegra is a stroke of genius. So too is the the opening line: “To new beginnings.” It’s a not-so-subtle callback to the last time Reynolds and Peloton intersected in the world of advertising.

In 2019, Peloton received terrible press for its “Peloton Wife” spot, where an already extremely fit woman dutifully rode the bike her husband got for her, day after day. With lightning speed, Reynolds made a parody ad while everyone was still talking about the original, recruiting the actress (Monica Ruiz) for a commercial depicting a “girls night out” where they drink his Aviation Gin, her friends promise her that she’s “safe now” and they share the toast that Big and Allegra repeat a couple years later.

Many online, especially across LinkedIn, have speculated that this new controversy was all a setup by Peloton. They can’t imagine the platform would allow itself to be so caught off guard by a brand inclusion. To be fair, it’s perhaps a little suspect/presumptuous to assume that your product will only see positive association in a show. But what CEO would electively allow their best-selling product to be written as a murder weapon in a primetime TV show? And with the expectation that it would lead to a PR disaster and potential financial collapse for the company? C’mon. Peloton shares have started to pick back up, potentially as a result of the Reynolds collab, but this doesn’t feel like it’s part of some grand plan — it’s just elegant damage control.

If anything, it’s possible that Peloton executives discovered elements about Big’s imminent demise (and their bike’s role in his death) as the premiere got closer, which would’ve given them some extra time to create the ad. How, after all, would they have managed to coordinate the schedules of Noth, King, Reynolds and an entire crew in so little time? Some advertising experts truly aren’t sure. But for now, this is all just speculation.

As for Reynolds, who was recently named a 2021 Entertainment & Entrepreneurship Innovator by The Wall Street Journal, the saga is further proof that he’s simply operating on a different plane than most creative marketers out there right now. Maximum Effort, the marketing agency that he co-founded and produced the ad, is extremely plugged in — they’ve mastered the art of “fastvertising” — while the dialogue is punchy, restrained and memorable.

The most clever portion of the ad, in our opinion, was the voiceover from Reynolds. Number one, it lends even more star power to the ad (and it suits his talents — he’s at home doing this sort of thing), but more than that, Peloton doesn’t take a salty swing at HBO Max and the creators of the show. It simply states the facts. Cycling does wonders for your body. That’s the pitch. That’s all that really matters. Everything else — the sexy stares from Big and Allegra, the meta-ness of the moment— is secondary to this fact.

Considering some online were writing posts to the effect of “This is why I have’t used my Peloton in months …” kudos to Peloton and Reynolds for turning a disadvantage into an advantage. In an industry where advertisers take months to make a Super Bowl commercial, this team (very well might have) accomplished it in only a couple days, while under significant duress. To new beginnings, indeed.

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