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Peloton Gets the Last Laugh

The proverb, “He who laughs last, laughs best,” is generally credited to British writer John Heywood, who was – give or take a few decades – a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. Would the two proverb-makers have been able to afford the Peloton machines of their day? Probably not: had stationary bikes been available in Elizabethan England, they would have cost some serious shillings.

Still, the writers would have appreciated the exquisite situation that Peloton now finds itself in. Remember the online outrage triggered by Peloton’s holiday ad that had accurately targeted its upscale demographic audience, but was criticized as sexist by some? Peloton’s equity value dropped a billion dollars almost overnight when an online mob, abetted by “Saturday Night Live,” took offense at the specter of a “wife” thanking her “husband” for the gift of a Peloton.

There’s another old expression, this time by Oscar Wilde: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” For at least Peloton, and its patient CEO, John Foley, it turns out to be true. Peloton not only recovered its equity value, but its revenue for Q4 ’19 grew some 77% from ’18, and the number of its paying subscribers is up almost 100%.

Their numbers aren’t perfect, and they still have old debt to erase, but there is a valuable lesson here. Social media is not a poll. It is increasingly nails on a chalkboard – the loudest voices. It doesn’t mean those voices don’t have a point; it just means we need to look closely. Most of the time they don’t represent majority opinion or even a plurality, just the loudest opinions. Doing nothing can sometimes be the best response.

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