The Recipe for a Successful Brand Collaboration

Brand collaborations come in all shapes and sizes. There’s the quirky – like Crocs x Balenciaga, French’s mustard x Skittles and Old Spice x Arby’s “meat sweat” deodorant. There’s the unexpected – Nike x Tiffany & Co. and Nike x Ben & Jerry’s sneakers and Dolce & Gabbana x Smeg, a refrigerator which will only set you back £39,000. And there’s the creative – McDonald’s celebrity meals and IKEA x Virgil Abloh.  

Even AI is getting into the game. So, what can we learn from the world of brand partnerships? Read on to get inspired by a few that have made a mark.  

Learning from the Buzziest Brand Collaborations

Some of the most talked-about brand collaborations can offer a few insights for marketers.  

  • Go after the masses, but remember relevance, goals and values: Barbie x nearly everyone  

It’s officially the summer of Barbie. With over 100 partnerships taking place alongside the film’s release, the doll’s iconic pink palette has been splashed across OPI nail polish, Krispy Kreme donuts, Crocs, Xbox and more. Warner Bros. have certainly taken a page out of Bryon Sharp’s How Brands Grow – their mass marketing machine is getting Barbie in front of as many people as possible. And it’s working – the film opened ahead of projections at $337 million globally.    

We recently put a few of the collaborations to the test with System1’s Test Your Idea platform to see which generate the greatest levels of happiness, thereby predicting their profit potential. Barbie x Primark scored the highest on our 5-Star scale at 3.6, positioning it as a solid investment.  

A few things to remember: 1) It’s important that the partner brand is relevant to your brand’s positioning or value offering. Airbnb and the Barbie Dreamhouse? A match made in real estate heaven. 2) If you don’t share enough values to unite for a common goal, or to beat a common enemy, there’s no meaning behind the partnership. 3) Brands must consider what value partnering offers your “fans”? Partner to get somewhere quicker, with a brand that’s already doing it.  

  • Keep up with trends: LEGO x Stranger Things 

The toy brand launched its first ever Netflix collaboration in 2019, which scaled the platform’s top show down to LEGO size with mini figures of the characters and unique details that delighted fans. Tapping into cultural moments in ways that feel authenticate to your brand lets you share the spotlight to build greater fame than your brand does on its own. LEGO is no stranger to this tactic, as demonstrated by its other pop culture-inspired sets like Star Wars, Harry Potter and Marvel.  

So, always remember to keep your pulse on what consumers are loving (and loathing) – there just might be an opportunity for you to leverage the trends that make them feel happy. After all, emotion is a powerful tool for innovation success.   

  • Make it familiar as well as innovative: Doritos x Taco Bell 

Two famous brands came together in 2012 to satisfy consumers’ cravings. But it wasn’t an easy feat. Taco Bell’s R&D team worked on 40 different prototypes to get the shell just right. The extra time and effort was worth it – the launch was such a success that Taco Bell had to hire thousands of additional employees and create new production lines to keep up with the demand.  

Since then, Taco Bell has introduced additional spinoffs of the Doritos shell, like Cool Ranch and Flamin’ Hot. It’s a great example of fluent innovation – create something that is 80% familiar and 20% innovative to drive acceptance.  

  • Play up your distinctive assets: Louis Vuitton x Supreme 

Brands that consistently leverage their distinctive assets – color palettes, logos, slogans, characters, etc. – help to create memory structures in consumers’ minds so they are easily recalled at the time of purchase. Many luxury brands lean heavily into their logos, and Louis Vuitton is no exception. Its LV monogram and Blossom symbol adorn handbags, watch bands, clothing, scarves and more.   

Streetwear brand Supreme is equally recognized for its use of bright red. In 2017, LVMH and Supreme came together to launch a collection of clothing and accessories. It’s no accident that LV’s signature pattern and Supreme’s red formed the foundation of each design. Each brand stuck to the distinctive assets they are best known for to drive recognition and excitement among buyers.  

  • Find ways to stay top-of-mind: Starbucks x Spotify 

If you’ve been to Starbucks, you’ve no doubt noticed the role that music plays in shaping the brand’s DNA and the customer experience. Throughout the 2000s, Starbucks sold its own exclusive CDs at its registers, enabling customers to bring the sounds of their favorite coffeeshop home. Starbucks even employs in-house music curators to find the right soundtracks for their stores.  

In 2015, it only made sense that Starbucks would make their musical selections available to an even wider audience by teaming up with Spotify. Users could stream decades’ worth of playlists and employees were provided with free Premium subscriptions. Starbucks cleverly evolved with the introduction and mass adoption of streaming to keep its customer experience expanded beyond its retail footprint, just like it did with physical CDs.  

Want to predict whether your brand collaboration will be a success? System1’s Test Your Idea platform can identify the ideas that are worth investing in, and provides guidance on how to further improve them.