Close-Up: Advertisers pull together to face the recession

Agencies are starting to recognise that partnership marketing is one answer to the credit crunch. Matt Williams investigates.

If the recession has been good for anything so far, it's that it has encouraged a number of ad agencies to look at alternative, more cost-efficient ways of helping their clients' brands cut through.

So when Fallon launched "eyebrows", the creatively acclaimed follow-up to its "gorilla" TV commercial for Cadbury, the strategy went well beyond TV advertising and web seeding.

Fallon partnered Cadbury with Orange, another of its clients, to offer consumers the chance to download the ad's soundtrack as a mobile ringtone.

More than 250,000 customers downloaded the track on to their phones, making it Orange's most successful ringtone download ever. So, by partnering the two brands, Fallon had not only helped prolong the success of its TV ad, it had also managed to elevate the status of another of its brands too. Win-win.

Partnership marketing might sound like a dry stick of a marketing tool, but agencies are increasingly using the principle to forge mutually beneficial relationships between clients on their roster.

For an agency, it makes sense to get two (or more) of its clients involved in campaigns. The agency knows both clients' markets and objectives intimately and can spot crossover opportunities that work cost-effectively to leverage and complement both brands.

And for the brands involved, partnership marketing means the chance to share both the value and rewards of great ideas, as well as the cost.

No surprise, then, that agencies are also pursuing the opportunities on a more formal basis, creating dedicated units and moving the proposition well beyond an opportunistic to an official one.

MPG, for instance, has recently struck up an alliance with the partnership marketing agency Simbiotik, in a deal that MPG's chief executive, Marc Mendoza, says will help it "fulfil our mission of being able to provide our clients with a full 360-degree offering".

David Pickles, the chief executive of Simbiotik, certainly believes that clients will demand partnership marketing more in the near future. "Partnership marketing is a novel device for one company to swap its assets with another, to help benefit them both," he says.

"Where agencies like ourselves can come in is by evaluating those marketing assets that the brands aren't using, and getting them to understand exactly how these can be exploited better."

All very welcome in an economic downturn. So these assets can be anything from vacant media space (if you are brand partners with Top Shop, for example, you're getting free ad space on Oxford Street that money simply can't buy) to a loyal and accessible audience base.

For some clients, partnership marketing is embedded in their DNA. COI, in particular, regularly forms alliances with brands that already possess an audience relevant to the message that its campaigns are promoting.

For example, the Department for Children, Schools and Families recently aligned with commercial and non-commercial brands specific to eight- to 16-year-old boys and their fathers in its bid to promote the National Year of Reading scheme.

Daphne De Souza, the head of sponsorship at COI, says: "Partnership marketing allows us to promote our messages to those hard-to- reach audiences. By working with trusted brands, our messages appear more legitimate, and it means we know we are targeting the relevant people."

Alongside free media space and already established audiences, a brand alliance can also be effective as it's essentially an endorsement from another brand.

Chris Reed, the chief executive of the partnership marketing agency Cocktail Marketing, says: "Brand partners are friends recommending other brands to you. They are leveraging the trust that a consumer has for one brand."

But therein lies the real challenge: to ensure that partnerships don't jar to the detriment of both brands. Suzi Watford, the head of partnerships at The Times, says: "We'll only work with brands with similar values to ours, and most importantly with brands that we know our customers will be happy to have a relationship with."

Watford explains that The Times' long-running partnerships with Pizza Express and WH Smith are testament to this - they are brands that the newspaper is happy to be seen recommending and in return will boost sales as consumers buy the paper to get that free book or money-off pizza voucher.

Steve Bell, the chief executive of Iris, which helps form alliances for brands including COI, says: "The process needs to be treated in the right way. It's not a quick thing, both brands need to be upfront about their aims with each other from the start and both need to see it as a tactical long-term strategy."

It's important to be mindful that brands may be entering the realms of partnership marketing purely because budgets are being cut and they are looking for a quick win.

But providing that the two brands involved in an alliance have a similar target audience and are willing to take a like-minded approach to the issue, then partnership marketing can be a progressive and effective marketing tool in the current climate.

PLAY.COM AND NESTLE

Agency: Cocktail Marketing

When charged by Play.com to create positive brand associations and drive both new and existing customers to the Play.com website, Cocktail Marketing devised a partnership with Nestle cereals.

Nestle ran a promotion offering consumers the chance to claim one of 12 recent family DVDs for only £1 and supported the partnership by branding the promotion on 5.5 million cereal packets and running an online banner ad campaign.

More than a quarter of a million customers who bought packets promoting the deal visited the Play.com website to claim their DVD.

"Play.com and Nestle were both very happy to partner with each other," Chris Reed, the chief executive of Cocktail Marketing, says. "They are both trusted brands, and so both saw the association as a positive step. Nestle had tried brand partnerships before and they hadn't worked so well, and that was because the brands they had affiliated themselves with hadn't been as trusted and respected in the marketplace as Play.com. By running the offer, Nestle was able to drive the rate of its sales across its range, and helped reinforce its family values with consumers by offering a deal that was both tempting and relevant."

For Play.com, the advantages were just as clear. "First and foremost, the offer helped increase traffic to the Play.com website," Reed says.

"By partnering with Nestle, in particular, it meant that typically the traffic was coming from the family market, which is exactly the demographic that the brand had gone out to target.

"It also meant that Play.com branding was being displayed in supermarkets across the country, which not only meant that it was getting free media exposure, but that it was getting exposure in rival stores.

"Tesco would see Play.com as a rival as they both sell the same sort of products, but it's not going to stop stocking Nestle cereal products."

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH (THROUGH COI)

Agency: Iris

In February 2009, the Department of Health asked the COI roster agency Iris to create a number of partnerships to help promote condoms as an essential everyday item for 18- to 24-year-olds.

Iris initiated alliances with a variety of relevant brands, predominantly from the retail and social sectors. These included a tie-up with the nightclub chain Yellow Hammer Bars, which offered condom-toting punters the chance to queue-jump at a number of selected nights during February. The partnership reached an estimated 73,600 clubbers.

The agency also struck up a link with 21 student unions across the UK, which ran "show a condom and get a free gift" nights on Valentine's Day. An estimated 12,000 students attended the event, with 6,300 claiming a gift.

In the retail sector, the Department of Health partnered with the beauty brand Fudge, which ran a competition offering a year's supply of styling products and Mates condoms.

The government service also paired up with major condom suppliers such as Fusion, which gave away 1,600 condoms to young people who entered an online quiz on sexual health.

The partnership helped the Department of Health raise the profile of its message of the dangers of having sex without a condom, while the partnered brands all received an increase in visitors and helped raise brand awareness.

Steve Bell, the chief executive of Iris, says: "The partnership worked well because it saw a number of very different brands working together on a single-minded aim. This meant we could have this one sole message repeatedly drummed in to the target audience by several brands. The whole partnership marketing initiative is based around receptivity, and that's why COI can be successful when working with other brands - they are not just seen as partners, they are seen as long-term strategic relationships all trying to achieve one specific goal."

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