Co-Branding

Published by Colin Finkle on

More than the sum of their parts; brands can collaborate for great success (or disaster!)

I have been observing brands for two decades because they fascinate me. Without fail, I see the best brands making trade-offs; they build spectacular awareness, associations, and credibility in one type of product, but they cannot go into other product categories without confusing what the brand stands for.

But some brand managers get greedy and want it all. They try to bolster their brand by pairing up with another brand to launch a product in a different product category. A brand partnership can be a great strategic move or a complete disaster.

What is co-branding? Co-branding is a cooperation between multiple brands to create products bearing all of the participant’s names, like the Oreo Blizzard or Ford Explorer: Eddie Bauer Edition.

Co-branded products work best when each of the brands has credibility in its respective product categories but does not have enough credibility to be successful alone in the new product category. For example, Nike is strongly associated with athletics (where Apple is not), and Apple has excellent credibility in making high-quality electronics (where Nike does not.) So the Nike + iPod Sports Kit was a product that saw the success that may not have been achievable by either company alone.

We delve into seventeen examples of co-branding:

  • Mophie Supreme Power Reserve
  • Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Taco
  • iPhone XR PRODUCT(RED)
  • OREO® Cookie Blizzard® Treat
  • Nike + iPod Sports Kit
  • Ford Eddie Baurer Ford Explorer
  • Oral-B: Electric Toothbrushes
  • Frigidaire by General Motors (1940s and 1950s)
  • Tide Plus A Touch of Downy Liquid Laundry Detergent
  • MAC Viva Glam: Lady Gaga
  • Crest plus Scope
  • Glad Scented Kitchen Trash Bags: Gain™ Original Scent (and Fabreeze)
  • Ferrari Signature Credit Card by ICICI Bank
  • Beats NBA Collection
  • Pillsbury Cinnabon Frozen Toaster Strudel
  • HP ENVY Beats Limited Edition
  • Dirt Showdown: Hoonigan Exclusive Edition

BONUS. We touch on three examples of bad co-branding:

  • Apple iPod + HP
  • Betty Crocker A&W Root Beer Float Frosting
  • Renault Zoé Z.E with Biotherm

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Strategic Brand Partnerships

An agreement for two brands to support each others promotion and product efforts.

Like any strategic business partnerships, combining brands means that they are in a better position for success together than apart.

Some products just go together: bagels and cream cheese, smartphones and data plans, or game consoles and video games. But one brand would not have any credibility extending into its complementary product category; a bread brand would not have any credibility if they decided to make cream cheese.

Strategic brand partnerships imply that both brands have something to bring to the table. There is no payment from one company to another; otherwise, that would be considered brand licensing.

A licensing agreement is usually the only option if one brand is dominant, and the other brand is relatively small. The small brand has far more to gain than the big brand, so there is an equalization payment, for example, a Paw Patrol kids umbrella, or a Harley Davidson belt. The manufacturer’s brand is not comparable to brands of Paw Patrol or Harley Davidson, which have high brand equity. https://brandmarketingblog.com/articles/branding-definitions/what-is-brand-equity/

A strategic brand partnership only takes two forms; the two brands position their separate products as complimentary (co-marketing or cross branding), or the two brands combined to make one product (co-branding).

Co-Branding vs. Cross Branding

Co-branding results in a single product, where cross-branding keeps the brand’s products separate.

When brands decide to work together, it can take a variety of forms:

  • Co-marketing: The brands can combine their marketing efforts to promote their respective products.
  • Cross-branding: The brands could make sure the products appear together in paid promotion.
  • Cross-merchandising: The brands could make sure their products appeared together where they are sold.
  • Co-branding: The two brands could deeply partner up and make a new product marked with both their brands.

The significant advantage of co-marketing or cross branding is scale. Neither of the two brands alone would have the budget alone to take advantage of certain expensive promotion opportunities, like a trade show booth, sponsoring an event, or even Superbowl ad.

Brands that work together on promotion also have far more coverage. If one company was going to run a campaign, and another company was going to run their own campaign, then they get twice the promotion coverage because both brands will be represented on both ads. Intel Inside is the most successful co-marketing campaign in history.

Co-merchandising capitalizes on the fact that some products are just better together: pie and ice cream, mattress and pillows, or engine oil and filters. Placing these together at the point of purchase can increase the sales of both products.

Co-marketing or Cross Branding, vs. Cross Merchandising vs. Co-branding.

Sometimes products are so good together that they are bundled. Often, the Microsoft Xbox or Sony PlayStation will have special bundles of the gaming console and the top-tier game. The console manufacturers know that starting the customer’s experience with a compelling game will result in better engagement with the platform over time. Console/game bundles are still considered co-merchandising because it is still two discrete products. Co-branded game consoles do exist, but they are custom designed special editions.

A business delves into co-branding when they create a new product for the partnership. For example, co-merchandising crackers and peanut butter would be placing them together, offering a discount if purchased together, or having a bundle. A co-branding agreement between crackers and peanut butter would be developing snack packs with a few crackers and a dish of peanut butter.


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17 Co-Branding examples

We dive into some examples of co-branded products, and seek to answer what both brands brought to the partnership, and if it was an advisable strategic brand partnership.

Mophie Supreme Power Reserve

Brand A

Mophie

What does the Mophie brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in mobile power banks
  • Reputation of quality

Brand B

Supreme

What does the Supreme brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Hot / trending status
  • Self-expression
  • Very high end
  • Brand awareness
  • Retail stores

The Mophie Supreme Power Reserve is a battery that lives on your keychain and can plug into your iPhone or iPad when you need those extra hours of runtime. Power banks are Mophie’s bread and butter, while Supreme typically makes clothing for an urban lifestyle.

The New York company IRT facilitated the collaboration as they have for many other Supreme branded products in different product categories. For Mophie, this was only the second co-branded power bank with custom packaging. Now they collaborate with many hip brands, so it is safe to assume this was a big success.

Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Taco

Brand A

Taco Bell

What does the Taco Bell brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in fresh food
  • Credibility in Mexican inspired foods
  • Restaurants (retail and distribution)
  • In restaurant promotion

Brand B

Doritos

What does the Doritos brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Unique and well-known nacho flavor
  • Unique and well-known chip texture
  • Combination Taco Bell competitors can’t copy
  • Brand associated with indulgence

The Nacho Cheese Doritos Loco Taco is simply a Taco Bell hard taco with a shell made of a Doritos nacho chip instead of a tortilla.

It may seem a bit silly, but it is a brilliant strategic move. It allows Taco Bell to upsell to the higher margin menu item with a clear and straightforward value statement: it’s a taco made with a nacho chip! People indulge with Doritos chips all the time, so it is so much easier to ask for the Doritos taco instead of the plain old one.


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iPhone XR PRODUCT(RED)

Brand A

Apple

What does the Apple brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • The most valuable brand in the world
  • High credibility in technology
  • Assumed great design

Brand B

(RED)

What does the (RED) brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Association with treating HIV/AIDs
  • Trust to manage donations well
  • Association with doing charity

The iPhone XR finished in PRODUCT(RED) signature bright rouge is one where a portion of the purchase price goes to the (RED) charity to help fight and treat HIV and AIDS.

Even the most valuable brand in the world, Apple, has shortcomings. If Apple just said that they were going to donate a portion of the purchase price on a color of iPhone, people would chalk it up to cheap PR bull-crap. The biggest business in the world is not in the business of giving away money. But connect with (RED), and it becomes far more credible and prestigious.

OREO® Cookie Blizzard® Treat

Brand A

Dairy Queen

What does the Dairy Queen brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in ice cream
  • The Blizzard sub-brand
  • Restaurants (retail and distribution)
  • In restaurant promotion

Brand B

Oreo

What does the Oreo brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Unique and well-understood flavor
  • High brand awareness
  • Loyal set of fans
  • Understood to be a cookie and crunchy

The Oreo Blizzard is a thick milkshake blended with crumbled Oreo bits. The cookies combine with the ice cream to match the flavor profile of the Oreo boxed cookies, but in a much different format and with a much different texture.

Oreo is combined with a lot of things to make co-branded products because of it’s unique and universally understood flavor. There are Oreo chocolate bars, Oreo ice creams, Oreo yogurts, etc. There is even a blended ice cream with Oreos mixed in at McDonald’s (should have pushed for that exclusivity agreement!), But none is more celebrated than the Oreo Blizzard, and Oreo enjoys the international promotion of their cookies while supply Oreo crumbles and cashing cheques.


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Nike + iPod Sports Kit

Brand A

Nike

What does the Nike brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Associations with athletics
  • Associations with performance and victory
  • Loyal set of athletic patrons

Brand B

Apple

What does the Apple brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • The most valuable brand in the world
  • High credibility in technology
  • Assumed great design
  • The iPod sub-brand
  • Platform runners were using anyway

The Nike + iPod Sports Kit was a pedometer for your shoe and a wireless adapter that plugged into an iPod. A line of shoes had a pocket for the pedometer which communicated with the iPod that runners and walkers were probably using during their exercise anyway. The iPod would give verbal prompts regarding pace and number of strides; useful real-time information if you are a runner, and a leap forward from traditional high-end pedometers, where you would look at reports after the fact.

The Sports Kit was the start of a long term relationship between Nike and Apple. The modern evolution of this product is the Apple Watch Nike+, which has exclusive watch faces and bands that are branded Nike. The technology is now far easier to use.

Nike was a little early to the table with the Nike + iPod as this was launched just when the iPhone came out. So much of the functionality would be in smartphones, but this early effort gave Nike a strong sub-brand for their sport trackers: Nike+.

We have an article that discusses other strong sub-brands. Check out Examples of Successful Sub-Brands. One of the case studies is the Apple iPhone sub-brand.

Ford Eddie Baurer Ford Explorer

Brand A

Ford

What does the Ford brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in the truck market
  • The Explorer sub-brand

Brand B

Eddie Bauer

What does the Eddie Baurer brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Associations with the outdoor
  • Reputation for high quality

The Ford Explorer had a variety of trim levels for different budgets, and the Eddie Baurer edition was the top of the line (until the Limited trim level came out). Trim level refers to the set of wheels, paint, and interior finished such as leather seats.

It seems a little odd that an outdoor clothing brand would have anything to do with cars, but Eddie Baurer brought a strategic advantage to Ford in the SUV market. The people who valued the outdoors were also attracted to the SUV segment because of the perceived freedom to adventure that having a large 4×4 brought. The Explorer was also great at hauling large items, like kayaks or camping equipment; features that the Eddie Baurer fanbase loved. The Eddie Baurer edition Ford Explorer was a statement to others on the road that you were the outdoorsy type.


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Oral-B: Electric Toothbrushes

Brand A

Oral B

What does the Oral B brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in tooth care
  • Customer base of manual toothbrushes to up-sell

Brand B

Braun

What does the Braun brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility with personal care electronics
  • Reputation of quality

All of the Oral-B electric toothbrushes have a “powered by Braun” badge on them. Gillette owned both brands, and now they are owned by Proctor & Gamble. Both brands bring credibility, and P&G multiplies their efforts by getting more exposure to each brand.

Oral-B has a long history with handheld toothbrushes; the first toothbrush with nylon bristles was an Oral-B. They had never extended their brand into electric toothbrushed until after the Gillette acquired Oral-B for $188.5 million in 1984. With both brands owned by the same company, Oral-B could soften the market for its brand extension by leveraging the Braun brand.

Frigidaire by General Motors
(1940s and 1950s)

Brand A

Frigidaire

What does the Frigidaire brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in refrigerators
  • High US brand recognition

Brand B

General Motors

What does the General Motors brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • International brand recognition
  • Associated with high-quality motors

Looking back in history, there was a period where Frigidaire refrigerators had a GM logo, and the advertising for the appliances stated: “made by General Motors.” The partnership was one of the first instances of co-branding (maybe the first!)

The pairing seems a little odd now as the General Motors brand is so tightly associated with cars. But after World War II, vets and blue-collar workers valued the manufacturer, and GM was seen as a high-quality manufacturer. A Frigidaire by General Motors gave the market at that time more confidence that it was a quality product.


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Tide Plus A Touch of Downy Liquid Laundry Detergent

Brand A

Tide

What does the Tide brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility with laundry detergent
  • Associated with stain removal

Brand B

Downy

What does the Downy brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Associated with fabric softening
  • Associated with fresh scents

Tide Plus A Touch of Downy is a combination of liquid laundry detergent and fabric softener, which are usually separate products (…think shampoo and conditioner.) The combination leaves clothes softer and smelling better than regular Tide detergent. It’s nearly the same price as Tide Original, so there is no upselling going on here.

Both Tide and Downy are brands owned by Proctor and Gamble. Much like Crest plus Scope (a later example), P&G is willing to risk sales of Downy fabric softener by making a combination product. But both product brands and merchandise categories are elevated because shoppers who were buying Tide alone would not have considered Downy fabric softener without the combo product. I imagine a certain amount of them convert into customers of other Downy products because of the experience they have with Tide Plus a Touch of Downy.

MAC Viva Glam: Lady Gaga

Brand A

M·A·C

What does the M·A·C brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in cosmetics
  • Retail and distribution
  • In-store promotion

Brand B

Lady Gaga

What does the Lady Gaga brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Hip brand
  • Personal followers
  • Associations with style, artistry, and personal pride
  • Associations with charitable giving
  • Free promotion

M·A·C Viva Glam was a promotional product line to raise funds for AIDS research. Lady Gaga and Cyndie Lauper contributed their brands, and VIVA GLAM Gaga and VIVA GLAM Cyndi launched for a limited time in 2009.

People view corporate giving cynically, but it becomes far more credible and newsworthy when a brand manager adds in a celebrity like Leonardo DiCaprio or Lady Gaga. So this promotion raised a lot of money for AIDs research and grew MAC’s brand and their sub-brand Viva Glam.

Plus, we got this fascinating add out of it. It’s so deep that I do not understand it’s meaning, but it sure is interesting!

Crest plus Scope

Brand A

Crest

What does the Crest brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in toothpaste
  • Associations with dental health

Brand B

Scope

What does the Scope brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Associations with fresh breath

This product is another combo product that Proctor & Gamble loves to make when they have complimentary brands. Crest and Scope are both P&G brands, and they co-brand them into a toothpaste with certain qualities of a mouthwash, namely antiseptic power and fresh breath.

Michelle Greenwald, Professor, NYU & Columbia University, points out that you might think P&G could cannibalize sales of Scope because people are getting it in their toothpaste. But clearly, both product categories are benefitting because they continue the co-branded toothpaste to this day. We saw this in a previous example: Tide Plus a Touch of Downy.


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Glad Scented Kitchen Trash Bags: Gain™ Original Scent (and Fabreeze)

Brand A

Glad

What does the Glad brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility with garbage bags
  • Associations with quality

Brand B

Gain

What does the Gain brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Associations with clean smelling
  • Trademark scent

Brand C

Fabreeze

What does the Fabreeze brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Association with smell management

Glad scented kitchen trash bags have a variety of scents provided by Fabreeze, one of which is the scent of Gain laundry detergent. The idea is that the experience of kitchen garbage bags can be less disgusting with the smell of lean laundry.

This example of co-branding is fascinating because there are three brands and two companies involved… my, oh my. Proctor & Gamble loves the tactic of co-branding so much that they are willing to help build the brands of other companies. Gain and Fabreeze are brands owned by P&G, but Glad is its own company. Why not, though? P&G can make some money while promoting their

Ferrari Signature Credit Card by ICICI Bank

Brand A

ICICI Bank

What does the ICICI brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Banking infrastructure
  • High brand awareness in India
  • Large customer base

Brand B

Ferrari

What does the Ferarri brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • High international brand awareness
  • Associations with luxury and speed
  • Self-expression value for customers
  • Prestige

The Ferrari Signature Credit Card is a credit card powered by ICICI and featuring the logo of Ferrari. It is one of many co-branded credit cards. This one offers perks, some of which are Ferrari related like discounts when purchasing fan merchandise from the Ferrari online store or visiting the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

The Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI) is the largest private bank in India but has grown internationally. A large brand for sure, but ICICI does not have the cache or high-end appeal of Ferrari… not even close.

We featured Ferrari World Abu Dhabi in our fun round-up of examples of brand associations. Was getting into theme parks a boon or a bust for Ferrari? Read and decide.


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Beats NBA Collection

Brand A

Beats by Dre

What does the Beats by Dre brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in headphones
  • Associations with high-quality sounds
  • Self-expression value for customers

Brand B

NBA

What does the NBA brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • A loyal fanbase
  • Associated with urban culture
  • Self-expression value for customers

The Beats NBA Collection are the Beats Solo3 wireless headphones adorned with the colors and logos of six NBA teams: the Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, LA Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Philidelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics.

Not resting on their laurels, Beats / Apple features hip hop artists from all of the cities of the featured teams in their marketing of the headphones and pushes people to purchase the artist’s songs on iTunes or listen on Apple Music. This product is so deeply integrated into the urban community via the brands of Beats, the NBA, the teams, and the recording artists.

Basketball played a big part in the story and growth of Beats by Dre, which we told here on BMB. The first public endorsement of Beats by Dre was when Lebron James asked for a set of 15 prototypes for the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball team.

Pillsbury Cinnabon Frozen Toaster Strudel

Brand A

Pillsbury

What does the Pillsbury brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in breakfast pastries
  • Associations with indulgence

Brand B

Cinnabon

What does the Cinnabon brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Unique and well-understood flavor
  • Trademark scent
  • Credibility in cream cheese icing
  • Associations with indulgence

The Pillsbury Toasters Strudel flavored to be like a Cinnabon so customers could have a tasty snack or breakfast in minutes. The strudel is complementary to the Pillsbury Grands!™ Cinnamon Rolls which you cut and bake from a tube. Both products have a similar brand promise.

Toasters Strudel is one of many co-branded products Cinnabon has in the market. They have partnered and made products with Pillsbury, Kellogg, Keurig, Pegasus Foods, Pinnacle Vodka, Airwick, Burger King, and Taco Bell. While vodka and air fresheners push the limits of the Cinnabon brand promise and may result in brand dilution, all partnership focus on the scent of Makara Cinnamon, which is an owned sub-brand of Cinnabon. That sweet scent is what made Cinnabon’s restaurants so tempting in malls across the world.

It’s working for Cinnabon though. Licensing eclipsed the franchises as the number one source of revenue.

“We had the realization that […] there was more to the brand than just the roll,” Kat Cole, president of Cinnabon, told Ad Age. “There are only so many malls and airports.”


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HP ENVY Beats Limited Edition

Brand A

HP

What does the HP brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in laptops

Brand B

Beats by Dre

What does the Beats by Dre brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Associations with high-quality sounds
  • Self-expression value for customers

The Beats limited edition of the HP ENVY was a laptop that featured the Beats logo more prominently than the HP logo. Technically, the computer featured better in-chassis speakers and an equalizer program pre-loaded that replicated the signature bass-rich sound of the early Beats by Dre headphones. But the real value was the self-expression and prestige the owner received when he or she popped a Beats laptop out of their backpack in college.

The licensing agreement with HP lasted from 2009 to 2014. The deal was canceled when Apple purchased beats and did not want to give any advantages to its competitor in the laptop market.

It was a risky move for the then up-and-coming brand. The laptop had good sound quality for what it was, but speakers never sound good when they have to be small, as they would in and qual laptop. The laptop did not have the same sound experience as the headphones.

Dirt Showdown: Hoonigan Exclusive Edition

Brand A

Dirt

What does the Dirt brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Credibility in racing video games
  • Long history of rally games

Brand B

Hoonigan

What does the Hoonigan brand bring to the co-branded product?

  • Ken Block’s personal brand
  • The reach of Hoonigan and Ken Block social channels
  • The graphics of the cars featured in Hoonigan’s media
  • Up and coming “hip” brand

Dirt Showdown is a video game that simulates rallycross car racing, and the Hoonigan Exclusive Edition had some extra content, mainly some in-game vehicles associated with the Hoonigan media. Gamers could drive Ken Block’s rallycross car.

Ken Block, Hoonigan and Dirt were both deeply entrenched in the rallycross scene, but there are always people who don’t know both brands. The combination of Dirt and Hoonigan was a great partnership to deepen their association with rally racing and cross-pollinate each other’s fanbases.


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Bonus: Bizarre Co-Branding Examples

Sometimes co-branding results in some weird stuff.

You know that romantic couple that are such different people that you know their relationship will end in disaster? The marketing equivalent is poor co-branding.

Co-branding disasters usually happen when the products are just outside the scope of each brand’s promise. It just does not make sense to anyone but the business insiders.

Apple iPod + HP

Apple thought that they might reach a different demographic if their iPod product came out as an HP product at the same time Apple iPods were on the market. What were they thinking?

Betty Crocker A&W Root Beer Float Frosting

I am all for trying novel flavors, but root beer on cake is a bit of a stretch. Who knows, maybe someone loves it.

Renault Zoé Z.E with Biotherm

Renault, a car manufacturer, partnered with Biotherm, a skin care company. You may rightly ask: what the f#$k a car has to do with skin care? Renault wanted to make the interior of their concept car into a spa experience that would smell nice and be easy on the occupant’s skin. Thankfully this hasn’t gone farther than a concept car.


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Conclusion

Co-branding can be great when two brands come together to make a product that neither brand would be able to pull off alone. But they fail when the new product is out of the scope of what customers could reasonably expect from the brand.

My favorite example is the Nike + iPod Sports Kit. These are two powerhouse brands that recognize each other strengths and weaknesses. The run tracker forged a new product category which has since grown because it was extremely useful to runners and the smartphone revolution made it so much easier. I hate to do counterfactuals (thinking what would have happened…), but I believe that neither company could not have pulled off that success alone.


Colin Finkle

Colin Finkle is a brand marketer and designer with ten years of experience helping Fortune 500 companies tell their story at retail. You can see his work at finkle.ca

1 Comment

Jesenia · December 7, 2019 at 5:25 am

The advice provided above is highly applicable.

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