Whether it’s rejuvenation, reinvention or the opportunity to partner with an iconic name, brand collaborations can produce real magic.
In some cases it can even save a company. LEGO was famously on the brink of bankruptcy and only survived on the success of its first ever licensed series, with a film franchise called Star Wars – you might have heard of it. It soon laid the foundations to rebuild the brand… brick by brick.
The world’s favourite toy maker is now considered the king of collaborations, following similar successful partnerships with Walt Disney, Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, Marvel Comics and DC Comics.
Lucrative and loved in equal measure, LEGO’s licensing deals have spawned co-branded collections with Harry Potter, Batman, Ghostbusters, The Powerpuff Girls, Spider-Man and Jurassic World, to name just a few – and they’ve just added James Bond to that list.
It’s not restricted to toys either, with hit movies and video games all part of the LEGO licensing empire – a stroke of marketing genius that saw sales grow for 13 years straight up until 2018.
At Little Red Rooster we think there is something really quite exciting about a co-branded PR campaign (seriously, don’t get us started on Dairy Milk Oreo), because two sought-after names creating seductive products consumers simply must have is something we can really get behind.
What is co-branding?
Co-branding is a strategic marketing and advertising partnership, where the success of one brand is subsequently shared by the other. It can be a brilliant way of building awareness, boosting business and breaking into new markets.
That last point is music to our ears, because taking clients out of their comfort zone and exposing them to new audiences is a fundamental part of our PR ethos. It has nothing to do with ego and everything to do with incredible media coverage, sometimes in places they wouldn’t necessarily expect.
According to OnBrand magazine’s State of Branding Report, brand awareness, customer retention and new customer acquisition took up three of the top five priorities in a survey of over 500 global marketing managers, and co-branding campaigns can help deliver success in each of those areas.
Take the long-standing partnership between our client Smeg and Dolce & Gabbana. Nobody would have guessed a kitchen appliance brand – albeit an achingly stylish one – could grace the pages of the world’s fashion press and appear in magazines like Vogue. But it happened. In fact it’s still happening, and we’re loving every second of it.
Reimagining classic products
Another key area where co-branding can be incredibly effective is taking a classic product and giving it a fresh angle. This often opens up new schools of thought for an existing design and not only reinvigorates the media’s interest in that particular product, but the brand overall.
Historically, this is something we’ve always enjoyed doing. Jumping in the Little Red Rooster time machine and heading back to 2011, you’ll find one of the first co-branding campaigns we ever undertook with one of our oldest clients, Ruark Audio, known then as Vita Audio.
Taking the R1 DAB radio (classic product? Check), Ruark gave it a gorgeous new ‘Selfridges yellow’ finish to match the shopping bags of the famous department store where it was being stocked. Pretty clever, eh?
The idea gave the product fresh impetus and received plenty of media interest, plus the colour was on trend at the time. The campaign also strengthened Ruark’s ties with one of its most important retail partners, while the store proved a perfect backdrop for the launch.
“Co-branding is something that definitely peaks press interest and can take a product to the next level,” says Johnny Davis, deputy editor of Esquire. “The Apple Watch is just the Apple Watch, but add a handcrafted leather strap and an exclusive watch face designed by Hermès and you have my attention. Smeg’s FAB fridges are iconic regardless, but add a Dolce & Gabbana twist and they become the most desirable fridges in the world.
“Collaborations aren’t a new thing, American cosmetics company Bonne Belle partnering with Dr Pepper on flavoured lip balm in 1975 springs to mind, but it is something we’re seeing more of. For brands like Supreme, for example, it’s their diverse history of collaborations that arguably defines them.”
Picking a partner
You can’t collaborate with just anyone and it’s important PR agencies challenge a client if they feel the partnership it is pursuing isn’t right for the brand.
For example, two brands that are unerringly similar might prove to be pretty boring, whereas choosing someone who thinks in a completely different way or inhabits a completely different space could be cross-pollination gold.
Ruark did just that by taking its retro R7 radiogram and handing it over to graffiti artist Pure Evil. The result was a mesmerising one-off piece of work that’s still the centrepiece of the Harrods technology department almost 12 months later.
In fact, Ruark has a great track record for brand collaborations, as do many of our other clients, and being Francophiles we adore it when they choose to collaborate with French brands. B&O PLAY co-branding with Saint Laurent and high-end cooker client Steel partnering with ovenware giant Le Creuset are fine examples.
The important thing for us is that both brands share similar beliefs, or are closely aligned when it comes to ethics and social responsibility, and we’re always happy to work alongside another PR agency if it we share all the same goals.
According to Harvard Business Review, 64% of consumers cite shared values as the primary reason they have a relationship with a brand, while a study by Geniusworks suggests 88% of consumers believe companies have the power to influence societal change. Marketing teams are have taken note too, with the OnBrand report stating 79% admit social and cultural issues play a significant role in their marketing and branding strategy.
The ultimate, of course, would be if two of our clients decided to ‘get it together’. The thought of playing matchmaker is awfully exciting.
However, we’ve amassed a wealth of co-branding experience over the years and if it’s taught us one thing it’s that these things happen organically. And when they do they shouldn’t be rushed if you want them done right.
Smeg and Dolce & Gabbana is the perfect example. The bosses of both companies had been in close contact for years, before stumbling across the perfect way to collaborate. And those individually unique hand-painted fridges unveiled three years ago? They’re still being painstakingly finished.