The rise in cross-brand collaborations this year has perhaps been fuelled by tighter marketing budgets, according to Mark Stringer, founder of entertainment, sport and lifestyle agency PrettyGreen.
"Cross-brand promotions have always been in a brand’s armoury, but they were particularly in vogue when on-pack promotions led to big shelf space and in-store gains," he says. "This led to joint experiential, sampling and event experiences being created.
"However, with marcomms budgets constantly being put under pressure, brands are always looking for incremental gains, and longer-term partnerships and collaborations are inevitable if you can find the fit and the inclination to work through the stakeholder management issues."
Stringer says PrettyGreen is working on more cross-brand collaborations than ever, and predicts a rise in such events over the next six months.
Michael Brown, managing director at MKTG, agrees with Stringer’s assessment. "There certainly seems to be an increased visibility of collaborations," he says. "If you can combine two marketing budgets under a joint aim, then what’s not to love? More so in present market conditions, which means we should see even more collaborations arising in the foreseeable future."
NME’s head of events Tim Pearson has a slightly different perspective, however. He feels that brands are still very precious, but "have learned to live a little" and understand that they need to relax if they are to create "disruptive" experiences.
Making ‘different’ work
Whatever drives the collaboration, brands need to make sure they find the right partner to ensure their effectiveness for both parties.
"The challenge is to make two brands with different values gel together, and the more opposed those brands seem to be, the more noise you are going to make," Brown says. "Conversely, if you get it right, the more complimentary those seemingly opposed brands become once the marketing launches."
He cites the trend for high-street brands to team up with high-end fashion labels – for example, H&M with Erdem and Alexander Wang, and Adidas with Stella McCartney.
"These examples may have looked a little odd on paper at the idea stage, but the clear mutual benefits override the challenges," Brown says. "[Those] would include risk of creative differences between brands at the design stage, brand-guideline challenges, agreements on joint messaging and, if a joint product is being created, then who leads the product development and investment?"
Laying the groundwork
A successful cross-brand collaboration may give brands a platform to get in front of more consumers, but it’s not as easy as it looks. There’s more groundwork involved behind the scenes than for a more straightforward activation.
Nico Tuppen, managing director of Iris Sport, explains: "They take a long time to wrestle to the ground in detail of contracts, so get into the detail quite early."
Another potential test is one that NME faced when working with the BFI for its CineJam activation – a series of events featuring a live music performance followed by a rooftop film screening. According to Andy Minnis, head of music in the advertising team at NME publisher Time Inc, the challenge was to make sure the identity of the magazine’s brand remained. He says it wanted the authority of the BFI brand for the film offering.
As the number of cross-brand collaborations grows, there will be more creative developments in the area. "Tech innovation is going to be a real driver," says Minnis. "VR is shaping the music experience more widely. The ideas will soon catch up with the tech."
Tuppen agrees, but goes further in predicting that soon two brands that come together will create a new tech product or software. "It’ll be a genuine thing that people can buy – I think that will explode over the next 12 months."
Top tips for a strong cross-brand collaboration
Meet and greet
"Get everyone around a table quickly so that people can talk through concerns, issues, likely derailments, what success looks like, milestones, and try to find the common ground," Stringer says. "Get both parties to feel like they have promised to make it work face-to-face."
See both sides
"Different industries often have very different pinch points, or hurdles," Stringer notes. "It’s critical that both parties appreciate what’s important to the other side and try to support that. This prevents either party feeling like they are being taken for granted."
Push the boundaries
"Don’t just settle for what’s been done before. Someone has to sail the first unchartered seas: don’t let it be your competitors," Stringer argues. "[That] doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated, it just might be a little harder getting it through the business or off the launch pad."
"There needs to be some kind of layer of credibility so that both partners fit together naturally," Tuppen says. "There needs to be something that comes out of the partnership – a new product or experience."
Both sides need to get behind it
"On some occasions we have done a deal and the talent has not been that up for getting behind it because it’s brand work," Tuppen adds. "So they need to commit to doing the work. It sounds obvious, but you can get quite far down the line and one side gets cold feet. It does take careful planning and support."