Co-branding: The Good, the Bad and the What Were They Thinking?: The February Illuminator

Feb 25, 2016 | Retail, Small Business


The Solstice Advertising Illuminator

Co-branding isn’t a new concept in marketing, but a recent brand marriage (see Converse/Sex Pistols below) had us scratching our heads and wondering, what makes for a successful union between brands? In fact, one might ask, why co-brand at all? First, it’s an impactful way of introducing one marketer’s products and services to the enthusiasts of another. Co-branding also enables each brand to benefit from the halo effect of the other. Nike’s alliance with Michael Jordan, which began in the eighties is a prime example of this, producing enormous success for both. Economics is another obvious reason, allowing for cost savings or, in some cases, the opportunity to charge a premium (see Ford/Eddie Bauer below).

Just as in any relationship, co-branding comes with risks. If there is a positive experience, the credit is being shared across two brands, effectively diluting “points” with the customer. If the experience is a negative one, even if the partner brand is at fault, both parties share in the blame. Ideally, co-branding should result in the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. We’ve found examples of partnerships that achieved this, and others that didn’t.

Just do it vs. Just don’t

The first example is almost unfair: two revered, iconic brands coming together for a product that makes total sense. The Nike + iPod Sports Kit brings music and exercise together via a wireless system that allows shoes to talk to an iPod. It’s your basic no-brainer.

The flip side of athletic shoe co-branding can be found in the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Sex Pistols, the pairing of Converse (owned by Nike) and a very famous punk rock band. While on the surface this might make for an interesting fashion statement, could there be two brands that are more diametrically opposed? Converse and Chuck Taylor have always been the symbol of traditional mainstream values in the sports world; old skool, as it were. The Sex Pistols were the antithesis of anything mainstream and traditional. If Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten had ever worn Chucks, it would have been ironically. Never mind the bollocks, indeed.

Ford phenom vs. AMC atrocity

One of the most well-known and enduring co-branding alliances in the auto category was between manufacturer Ford and Eddie Bauer, an outdoor retailer. While there was a Bronco-Bauer model earlier, the real popularity ensued when Ford released the 1991 Eddie Bauer Edition Explorer. This was the premium level version of the Explorer and fed into the outdoorsy, rugged image of the SUV category. The union lasted twenty years.

A not-so-perfect match occurred when venerable House of Gucci teamed with now-defunct American Motors Corporation (AMC) on the Gucci Sportabout. AMC’s fashion forays also included Levi’s, Oleg Cassini and Pierre Cardin. It was the seventies, so perhaps illicit substances played a part in these decisions. We’ll likely never know.

Just what the doctor ordered vs. Did not nail it

Soft drink co-branding has been a thing for quite sometime, and a very popular brand merger was between Dr. Pepper and Lip Smackers from Bonne Bell. A unique cola flavor in a fun, teen-focused lip gloss made for a very smart partnership.

But then there’s this puzzler. Coty-owned cosmetics company OPI created an entire line of nail polish based on colors of the Coke brand. There’s silver for Diet Coke, black for Coke Zero, purple for Cherry Coke, and so on, with nine in total. Unless the polish is flavored and one is prone to biting one’s nails, this association seems a bit incongruous.

TGI Clever vs. McNever

In 1997, restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday’s introduced a Jack Daniel’s Grill entrée line. The combination of steak, shrimp, ribs and chicken with bourbon-, er, Tennessee whiskey-flavored glaze was destined to be a winner. In fact, it’s one of the most successful menu categories in the company’s history.

Staying with the food category, we end with a merger that never was – the McWhopper. Fast food operator Burger King proposed this beauty in honor of the United Nations International Day of Peace, which was to occur on September 21, 2015. This unlikely co-branding between competitors began with an open letter to McDonald’s that ran as an ad in The New York Times and Chicago Tribune. The campaign even had a website with the details. McDonald’s politely said McNo. While the co-branding never came to fruition, in the end, Burger King must surely be crowned the winner in this clever marketing ploy.

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