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Don’t Be (Milli) Vanilla

April 3, 2018 by Michael Reda

History has shown time and again that brands achieve great success from finding partners that align with them and/or complement their offer. 
The 1 + 1 = 3 calculation of sorts.

In the marketing world, this is commonly referred to as Complementary Branding or Co-Branding for short. Defined as “when two companies form an alliance to work together, creating marketing synergy” as described in Co-Branding: The Science of Alliance.

People love a good duo (see Sonny & Cher, Hall & Oates and Milli Vanilli to name a few) and the branding world is no different. Partnering with the right brand can create new attention and interest and drive additional engagement all the while introducing you to new markets and audiences. We have seen successful partnerships in recent years across a range of product categories including Ro-Tel + Velveeta, Nike + Apple, Pottery Barn + Sherwin Williams and BMW + Louis Vuitton. These brands aimed to forge long-term partnerships each could leverage over the course of time, and they succeeded at doing so.

All that said, we think it’s time to flip the script to win, enter Contrast Branding. We are not advocating that brands completely shy away from finding a expected partner to drive increased relevance, experiences and so forth, but the world has changed. Gone are the days where Print, Out of Home and TV were the key vehicles to reach consumers. Brands now face an almost insurmountable challenge to stand out in today’s overcrowded environment where consumers are inundated with messaging everywhere they go. It is time for brands to re-evaluate who they partner with and how they evaluate the success of those partnerships.

So what is Contrast Branding? It’s a partnership between two brands that a consumer would likely never think of having connection with each other. The goals of contrast branding remain the same but it flips the traditional approach. Until it spreads and becomes the norm, Contrast Branding done well can have the stopping power that brands need to stand out and establish relevance in the marketplace.

While this is not an entirely new concept and also not necessarily a simple task, if a brand can truly create a Contrast Partnership it will stand out in a way that Co-Branding cannot. It will create relevance, conversation and experiences (e.g. social currency) for a brand, while also exposing it to incremental audiences well beyond a traditional partnership.

Take Dodge + Hello Kitty for example. On the surface it sounds a bit ridiculous, how would this ever work? But when you dig a bit further, Hello Kitty did $6.5B in licensing during 2015 alone. This particular type of Contrast Branding partnership might not create synergies that foster a 10+ year ongoing partnership and that is completely fine in today’s environment.

Still not convinced? Challenge yourself to think differently and push your brands further. If Star Wars + CoverGirl can partner, why can’t Hennessey + Vineyard Vines, Taco Bell + Southwest Airlines, Rice Krispies + Sriracha or Lululemon + Mich Ultra?

Girl you know it’s true, disruption breeds opportunity! Get contrasting!

Michael Reda is Partner of Strategy and Business Development at PINE.
His first concert was Milli Vanilli & Young MC in 1990.