AWKWARD PRODUCT PLACEMENT
I saw this article in The New York Times the other day and found it really interesting. I should note that the article and this blog post will spoil the premier episode of the Sex and the City revival on HBO. So, be warned.
In any event, in the premiere, the character “Mr. Big” drops dead of a heart attack after using a Peloton bike. The bike’s logo is clearly visible and the episode even includes footage of a real life Peloton trainer. It’s not clear whether the Sex and the City production company had an agreement with the Peloton folks. In many cases, a brand will pay to have their product featured in a TV or movie. Next time you see a character swigging a Heineken on screen, it’s likely that was a paid product placement.
But in other circumstances, a production company may choose to use a product. That’s not a trademark issue so long as the product is used in the manner intended. But there’s potential trouble if the movie disparages the product. Here, there’s an argument that having a character drop dead after using the bike is a form of disparagement. And according to the article, Peloton’s stock value dropped after the broadcast, so there’s at least some evidence of damage.
It’s not clear whether Peloton will take legal action. The article suggests that it may be reacting with humor instead of litigation. The company is already running a commercial that features Chris Noth (the Mr. Big actor) and the Peloton instructor from the episode. It’s embedded in the linked article, and it’s pretty funny.
While it is not in my self-interest to suggest that anyone forego litigation under any circumstance, I think Peloton may be smart to make some lemonade out of this lemon rather than get tied up in expensive litigation. More brands may want to follow their lead.