Not another brand collab… make it make sense.
Chloe Stacey, Creative Strategist X Sam Jepson, Designer
Brand collabs are many a marketing manager’s answer to the viral fame question. But to achieve God-level status, collabs need to make sense. It’s not just a case of smashing two great things together and watching the engagement roll in. If it were, Creme Egg Mayo would be all the rage — but we all know how that one turned out.
Heinz and Absolut’s partnership is one that got it right. Jumping on the hype of Gigi Hadid’s viral vodka pasta, the two brands cooked up an opportunity to blend their distinct product offerings and create the mother of all collabs. This is the kind that has marketers around the globe asking themselves "Why didn’t I think of that?".
So if you're the type of person who didn’t think of that and wishes they had, we’ve got some tips on what makes an irresistible collaboration – brought to you by our own perfect collab: Creative Strategist, Chloe Stacey and Designer, Sam Jepson.
Keep it local
Chloe: Supporting your local became more important than ever during lockdown as people rallied behind their favourite local businesses in a time of crisis. ‘Local’ also meant looking after your community: fashion brands like Lazy Oaf, Bene Culture, and Slowdown Studio have used their platforms to elevate emerging creatives. There’s something in supporting others that makes collabs feel authentic and builds brand trust.
In the alcohol category, beer brands put the term ‘choose a side’ into action. Pairing up with its local footy team, Camden Brewery’s limited-edition Arsenal-themed beverages declare the brand's dedication to its roots.
Sam: The Camden x Arsenal collaboration works on so many levels and that’s why it’s so brilliant. The shared colour palette, football-focused tone and copy, the brewery’s fanzine-like illustration style that ties into the eclectic exterior signage of the Emirates – it’s far more engaging for consumers than a lazy logo-slap.
Then it’s topped off by a double-hopped lager to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Arsenal’s first double-winning season, with the can all kitted up. It’s clear the Arsenal-mad passion of Camden’s founder brings so much more depth to this collab than you would get from a more cynical marketing approach.
Chloe: And let’s face it, the potential of pissing off the Spurs-supporting section of your customer base took some balls!
Find a common purpose
Chloe: Casting aside selfish intentions like driving sales or generating buzz lets you establish a partnership that delivers impact. Shared values within your brand alliance allows the collab to propel a common purpose. Ben & Jerry’s partnership with Tony’s Chocolonely demonstrates how two brands with a good fit can work together to campaign for change.
Sam: It’s a mouth-watering mashup that just makes sense because of the great synergy the two brands have. Both being confectionery products (equally as delicious and even more so together) and being well-known for having deep-rooted social and ethical incentives.
Chloe: The result was three limited-edition, tastebud-tickling releases made with traceable cocoa beans to enable a living income for farmers. It’s about choosing businesses that share your values, match your brand, and do what you’re trying to do, but also help you connect with more of your target audience.
Sam: But not only does this work through shared mantra, the lo-fi graphics of Tony’s and hippie-inspired illustrations from Ben & Jerry’s marry up just as well as their flavour combinations. The packaging of the bars and tubs integrate with each others’ branding so well. It seems the best collabs always have some kind of synergy within graphic devices or shared assets.
Chloe: Talea’s another great example of a brand that really thinks about that design synergy when it comes to collabs but, there’s something fishy about their most recent collaboration. Fish-flavoured beer sounds more foul than flavourful, but it’s the values they share with Fishwife that makes this collaboration work. These two women-owned brands share a fast-paced growth trajectory and passion for packaging that’s resulted in intriguing, playful, thoughtful, gender-neutral packaging designs that stands out from other craft beers on the shelves.
Pull on memory triggers
Chloe: Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. We often use it as a coping mechanism during periods of uncertainty, so it’s no surprise that nostalgia-fuelled brand collaborations are more popular than ever.
Sam: Playing on aspects of nostalgia with brands that already have a cult following can be a quick win if done right. Transporting people back to a simpler time to relive aspects of their youth, paired with the exclusivity of these partnerships making the products feel covetable and collectable… something that’s hard to ignore.
Chloe: The best example of this right now has to be Barbie. The name on its own provides a hit of nostalgia across generations, and everywhere you look there’s a new collaboration, from fast fashion to food and drink. Start-ups are even hopping on the pink wave, with direct-to-consumer brands like MeUndies offering limited-edition Barbie-themed collections, and even beverage start-up Swoon have taken on the toy aisle.
Sam: Swoon is a great example of this. It’s a drinks brand that revolves around nostalgia through its wavey and wonderful graphics and typography, which fits perfectly in the highly saturated world of Barbie. The question mark around this particular collab is, with so many brands adopting the Barbie pink, will Swoon's rendition stand out or be cast aside like yesterday’s doll?
Chloe: And, I guess another question is, what’s actually in it for brands? Ironically, time will tell. Using nostalgia cues has been successful in terms of sales, but it is yet to be proven if limited releases have longevity.
Rise to the occasion
Chloe: Brands riding on the coattails of a seasonal holiday can sometimes feel lazy, but done properly, it can allow a brand to be part of an exciting world with a genuine reason to be there. Skittles turned heads when they began marking Pride by draining the rainbow from the brightly coloured sweets and packaging, allowing Pride to have the rainbow all to itself.
The trick is to pick an occasion that forms a genuine connection with your brand. Skittles and Pride are both associated with colour, making this match not only obvious, but actually quite clever.
Sam: Skittles nailed it with this campaign – with so many brands lazily ‘rainbow-washing’ in the past few years to show a shallow attempt of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, Skittles really elevated themselves above the rest. With such a simple graphic device of stripping out colour, this allowed the conversation to focus on the topic itself.
Chloe: Aura Bora's newest collaboration tunes into a much different occasion, the Martini Moment. It might feel like a bit of a stretch, but the drinking occasion is real. Using Graza’s boldly flavoured Drizzle oil, this unique non-alcoholic canned cocktail captures the essence of a traditional martini in a weird and wonderful way. It works on so many levels, tuning into existing brand love, appealing to those laying off the sauce, and satisfying those who simply want to experience a savoury seltzer that emulates a dirty martini.
As much as we love to rip up the rule book, when it comes to brand collabs, the best ones prove to sit within the range of what we've discussed here. Ultimately, it’s about making them feel natural by maintaining the balance between playful and practical. Mashups may create talkability, but it's the practical collaborations that prove to have longevity and leave consumers wanting more.
Interested in collaborating with us on your next project? Get in touch…