Reputation Risk or Ruin?

When word got out that Stephen Ross, owner of the trendy SoulCycle and Equinox luxury fitness brands, was hosting a major fundraiser for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, it quickly became a major brand crisis caused by a clash between very different brand images.

Trump is increasingly aligned with racist, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ policies. Yet SoulCycle and Equinox have specifically courted upscale urban professionals and especially the LGBTQ community. The result was a huge spike in negative publicity (see the chart above), as well as membership cancellations.

The brand bashing and calls for a boycott were then amplified by numerous celebrities like Morgan Freeman, Chrissy Teigen, Billy Eichner, and George Takei, who took to social media to voice their anger. Interestingly, while SoulCycle received the most initial publicity, Equinox suffered more negative coverage than SoulCycle overall:

But will it be a reputation killer?

One of the goals of The Measurement Advisor’s Reputation Killer? column is to investigate our theory that crises that show a steady decline in coverage from shortly after the original news breaks are unlikely to kill a brand’s reputation. If that concept holds true, the data implies that this SoulCycle brouhaha may not cause that much lasting brand damage.

Other factors point in the same direction. It’s a hassle to change which gym one goes to and/or what exercise routines you regularly follow. Consider also the addictive quality of SoulCycle’s routines. So this crisis may not have that big an impact.

However, passion is never in short supply when it comes to politics and specifically the current U.S. administration. Compounding the risk, there are plenty of work-out alternatives available. The competition will no doubt jump on the opportunity to lure customers away from Ross’s companies. So it remains to be seen how much long term damage the brand will suffer.

Either way, as this election cycle heats up and the usual corporate fundraising efforts increase, one has to wonder how many other corporate entities will find themselves in similar situations. Which brands will bear the brunt of political controversy caused by their founders? Stay tuned. ∞

Thanks to Talkwalker for providing the data for this column.  

Recent Posts