Peloton’s ex-CMO Dara Treseder on how she hit the ground running at Autodesk
Within six months of joining the software giant she'd launched three major brand campaigns. Here's how.
Dara Treseder, chief marketing officer, Autodesk
Dara Treseder has worked at major brands including Apple, GE and Goldman Sachs in her career. But she arguably earned her reputation as one of the industry’s boldest marketers during her tenure at Peloton.
She joined the fitness company as it wrangled with the fall out of a widely mocked ad campaign that saw a woman gifted one of its bikes for Christmas. The spot, which came out in December 2019, was berated for its cheesy execution and countless spoofs ensued as it battled the perception that it was for the rich elite.
In August 2020, she was brought in to turn that around. But just months into the role, Covid-19 took hold. For Peloton, these two years turned out to be the most critical in growing the business as people were forced away from gyms and fitness classes. Treseder, in response, pushed the brand to “lean into the community” for the first time.
"Focusing on the community helped us to take advantage of what was going on in the world and to motivate people to be active and connected in a trying time. And, you know, helped the company get to the next level," she tells The Drum.
During the pandemic years, Peloton’s sales rocketed and the perception shifted. The brand entered its most profitable phase of growth with its share price hit record highs.
But, with the end of lockdown restrictions came a time of reckoning. The strategy that had seen it thrive in a time of crisis was failing to sustain growth. It was also embattled in yet another PR crisis after it was sued for its equipment’s role in a dozen injuries and a child’s death (it settled in 2023 for $19m). It was also going through significant turbulence behind the scenes and a leadership overhaul that began with the appointment of a new CEO in February 2022 was quickly followed by a mass round of redundancies and the departure of its co-founders just a few months later.
During this time, Treseder began laying the foundations for her next move. Given her high-profile stint at Peloton, she would arguably have had her pick of any brand. But it was B2B giant Autodesk that proved the most alluring and she finally left Peloton in October 2022.
“You know the real change happened in February [with the CEO resignation] I didn't leave until October. So I stayed for nine months to get my team into a good place to make sure that I helped the company stabilize. It was a very intense period, my whole time there, in the best of ways. But I’m a big believer in ‘there’s a time to bloom where you’re planted. And I believe there’s a time when you need to 'go to grow.’ And for me, I kind of had reached a point where I needed to grow.”
Working across multiple industries – Autodesk provides software for companies ranging from media and entertainment to construction, architecture and engineering – and disciplines, she’s gone from managing a lean team operating in just four countries at Peloton to overseeing a team of hundreds in over 50.
“This is a much bigger job. It was time for me to take this amazing opportunity and do something new and make an impact on a bigger scale. It’s about how I can drive the most impact. And in this job, I can drive way more impact than I could in my previous role.”
‘If creativity isn’t going to work, I better know quickly’
Her remit when she joined was to modernize the marketing department, completely rethink its approach to going to market, and take its creativity to the next level. No small task for a multinational B2B firm.
Usually, a marketer would spend the first six months meeting the key stakeholders in the business, getting to know a new global team and their ways of working and, eventually, formulating a marketing plan. But less than 30 days into the job, Treseder had launched her first ad campaign. Just two months later, she led its most ambitious advertising campaign yet during the 2023 Oscars. And before the dust had settled, was back with another project – this time in partnership with the French government to highlight Autodesk’s role in the rebuild of the Notre Dame cathedral.
Treseder puts it all down to the time she invested during the eight-month interview process. Autodesk first contacted her about the role in February 2022, as the first set of leadership changes were underway at Peloton. “I took my time to get to know the company. I spent time doing research, getting to meet many people. And the company also got to know me. It was not accidental that I was given the role or that I chose the role. It was a great fit, where what I have to provide is exactly what the company needs. And what the company has to provide is exactly what I need. That match, I think, sometimes doesn’t always happen.”
She was also clear that she was coming in with a plan of action that she would implement from day one.
“I had made my 100-day plan before I even got the job. After I got the job, I revised it. And so by the time I started, there was this plan that my boss and I had talked through. There was trust and understanding. I came in ready and able to provide a clear vision for the team. And then the team rallied because there was clarity. When you provide a vision, there’s a NorthStar that allows you to start to execute well,” she says.
With the pace at which Treseder wanted to flex Autodesk’s creative muscles, she needed agency partners that would be on board with her plans. Cue the more traditional new-CMO task: review the agency roster. She opted to retain Goodby, which had worked with the company for some time and had a depth of industry and organizational knowledge that would be difficult to find in another shop.
But she also wanted a new partner. One that would help her push boundaries. At Peloton, Treseder was one of the first CMOs to work with actor Ryan Reynolds’s then-fledgling agency Maximum Effort. She trusted the celeb-fronted agency with campaigns like the comedically bold spot starring actor Christopher Meloni to the pitch-perfect (though shortlived) response to one of its bikes being involved in the death of one of TV’s most-loved characters.
“It was not an agency that was on Autodesk's radar at all and I had developed a relationship with Ryan [at Peloton]. I know the power of creativity and driving business results and you need the right partner to do that. That relationship is one that I have cultivated and I know how to work with them. I needed a partner that I had a relationship with and that cares about what Autodesk does,” she explains. “Maximum Effort creates a lot of movies, our software is used on some of the things that it works on. So, there’s also that understanding of who we are and what we do.”
The first campaign she launched coincided with the finale of The Walking Dead, a hit TV series few knew that had relied on Autodesk’s software for the visual effects throughout its 11 seasons. “I said let’s test and learn, right? If creativity isn’t gonna work in this company, I better know quickly.”
The spot, created by Maximum Effort, saw former Walking Dead actor Dallas Roberts return as his character Milton Mamet, a scientist. He hosts a Ted Talk and presents the world’s first grunt-powered door handle during which he uses Autodesk’s software to present the idea.
“It was a test. One of my hypotheses was creativity can drive massive business impact for Autodesk. It was an incredible success. That kind of gave me the confidence that wow, creativity is something that in a B2B world can be used to drive exponential growth. Creativity is going to work for us.”
Based on that campaign, Treseder set her ambitions higher. The Oscars.
Once again created by Maximum Effort, the campaign played on the fact that few people knew what Autodesk was. It created a fictional Hollywood filmmaker called Otto Desćinski – better known as Otto Desć – who actors including Ron Perlman and Elizabeth Banks paid tribute throughout three humorous spots.
On the back of its launch, traffic to the website doubled overnight, she says, and “social engagements were unlike anything we’ve seen before".
“I’m not talking about paid social, I’m talking about organic social. It was tremendous,” she adds.
The most recent piece of work she launched was on the back of the restoration of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, which was partially destroyed by a fire in 2019. The French government used Autodesk’s modeling tools during the rebuild.
Achieving more in six months than most would in a year, the big question Treseder faces now: what’s next? Her answer is to take it global.
“We’ve learned and accomplished a lot over the past six months. What you're going see us is continuing to learn and expand globally,” she says, vowing that this ambitious new approach to B2B creativity is something she wants every marketing team around the world to embrace.
Much like her tenure at Peloton, Treseder is facing some uphill battles at Autodesk due in large part to the current economic uncertainty. The fallback position for many of its clients has been to “wait and see”, hold any major investments and hope for a clearer outlook. That’s not her approach. And now she needs to convince them.
“When you wait, the uncertainty and the challenges become more overwhelming for you. It’s like a problem. When you have a problem, you don’t want to wait until the problem is massive: you want to start to chip away day by day, action by action.
“One of the things that we have to do [this year] is to help our customers understand the uncertainty, and then help them navigate it.”