What makes a successful brand collaboration? 

Sam Wilkes, Creative Director

Sam Wilkes, Creative Director

Brand Collabs are everywhere. Whether it’s sneakers and candy (see Adidas x M&M’s) or high luxe brand Gucci partnering with experiential brand The North Face, the trend for collaborations has ramped up, and we’ve reached a point where it’s not uncommon to read about a new drop on the daily.

But why?

Aside from the obvious marketing momentum and sales revenue that comes from launching a collab product or range, a successful collab can significantly impact your brand. 

Partnering with a younger, more disruptive brand can cause a halo effect for established brands. Granting access to wider, more diverse audiences that would usually be difficult to connect with, a collab can drive master brand awareness and product trial from new consumer groups. It can even go some way at repositioning your brand, paving the way for future innovation and expansion.

For brands that already have a dedicated following, a standout collab can take consumer loyalty and fandom to the next level. 

Last summer, Dunkin’ partnered with Backdrop to release paint cans in its signature pink and orange. The idea tapped into the home improvement trend during a period when we were all spending more time at home. This playful collab encouraged consumers to bring a slice of their favorite coffee and donut store into their personal space (if you’re into pink and orange, of course). Yes, it had novelty value, but it also produced something on-trend that people would actually use.

On the flipside, some brands really miss the mark or release so many collaborations that the excitement around yet another drop wanes. The message becomes diluted and meaningless.

Take the love-em-or-hate-em shoe brand Crocs as an example. Scroll through the Collaborations on their website and you’ll see that Crocs has collaborated with everyone from Hollywood A-listers to Japanese streetwear, animated kids films to rappers. While an Instagram post from Justin Bieber in 2020 merely hinting at a Crocs collaboration may have spiked the shoemaker’s shares to a 13-year high (Source: Bloomberg), who’s really winning with a pair of clogs covered in images of KFC chicken?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good collab. One of the most interesting ones I’ve seen was when fashion house Balenciaga launched its Spring/Summer 2022 collection with a bespoke episode of The Simpsons. Screened at an in-person, red-carpeted Fashion Week show, the characters we all know and love walked the (animated) runway in outfits from past seasons. In true Simpsons style, there were cameos from the likes of Anna Wintour and Bieber. It was the perfect clash of high fashion and celebrity with mainstream culture.

An industry first, this collab generated the desired buzz for Balenciaga, with both brands becoming part of the wider cultural conversation. But it also did something genuinely innovative by using the power of two brands coming together and creating hype around something that already existed.

Could this approach be the future of collabs? Will we start to see more brands collaborating, but instead of the end goal being about producing something covetable for people to own, will they put a sustainable or even social good lens on the partnership? Less products, more meaningful change. With the future of our planet increasingly at the forefront of public consciousness, there is a huge opportunity for brands to be part of positive change, and a collab could be the perfect way to do it.

How can you ensure that your brand collab is set for success?

7 considerations for a successful brand collaboration

  1. Impact. One of the major benefits of a collab is the halo effect that your partner may lend to your brand. But, as with anything brands do, you must keep it authentic. Consumers will see right through anything insincere, half-hearted, or bandwagon. Not everyone can pull off a sneaker collab (take note, Cole Haan x Slack). Find that connecting thread between you, and keep authenticity at the heart of your partnership to ensure that you make the most (positive) impact.
  2. Cultural Hype. Think about how your collab can enable your brand to become part of the cultural conversation in a relevant and – that word again – authentic way. As illustrated by the previous Dunkin’ x Backdrop example, what trends can your collab help tap into that might not be accessible or relevant to your brand otherwise?
  3. Build for the Future. Maybe your initial objective is to do something unexpected as a one-off activity, but there is real benefit in thinking long term. How can this collab shift your brand’s behavior and positioning in the long run? How could an ongoing collaboration, or series of collabs, open doors to new opportunities for your brand?
  4. Think Planet. Being planet-friendly is more important than ever, so ask yourself: are you collab-ing to create something genuinely desirable and collectable, or will what you make together end up in the trash? Taking Balenciaga x The Simpsons as inspiration, how can you generate that all-important halo effect without creating yet more physical products?
  5. Stand Out. Sometimes you need to break your own rules to stand out and make yourself heard, and a collab provides the perfect platform to do this. But if everyone is doing a Crocs or sneaker collab, will they notice the one you release? Think about the collectability factor and be realistic about what could get lost in the crowd – what is genuinely going to excite your audiences and create hype?
  6. Cost-Effective Innovation. Trial new product development and test out marketing to new audiences or in new channels. Releasing an LTO is always a good way for brands to try something new and step out of comfort zones. Doing so as a collab has the added benefit of shared budgets and resources between the partners.
  7. Learn. A collab offers a rare opportunity to learn from your partner, be it about another category, audience, or platform. Go on that journey together, soak everything up, and it might just spark future inspiration, innovation, and brand bravery.

The perfect collab?

I was recently asked what my dream brand collaboration would be. I’d love to see a heritage brand like Fortnum & Mason collaborate on something that breaks down the barriers to old-world luxury, something that really shakes up the establishment. Imagine a collab between F&M and Megan Thee Stallion. Think Bridgerton, but hurtling headfirst into the 21st century. Now that could be something truly standout. And there wouldn’t be a novelty shoe anywhere to be seen.

If you’re looking for a design agency partner to help ideate or facilitate a collaboration project, let’s talk.

Sam Wilkes, Creative Director