It’s hard to overstate the power of a crossover event – something about two distinct but recognizable entities coming together, their worlds colliding, and in the process activating the neurons and pathways in our brains in a certain way.
Creative collaboration itself can be seen as something of a crossover event, especially when it comes to advertising, with co-branding and other outward-facing brand partnerships delivering the same kind of unexpected impact. And there is so much that can be said about the benefits of combining strengths and expertise to come up with something truly interesting – and often extraordinary.
These viral co-branding examples prove the incredible power of creative collaboration, and demonstrate how striving to create the next “most ambitious (brand) crossover event in history” can have a great impact.
Smeg x Dolce & Gabbana
As far as unexpected mash-ups go, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with something more unlikely than kitchen appliances and high-end designer fashion. And yet, Smeg and Dolce & Gabbana’s initial collaboration – hand-painted refrigerators – was such a success that they have since released a second and a third line of products.
While Smeg is itself a luxury brand (a two-slice toaster can set you back $650 USD), it has historically stayed well within its lane as far as design risks are concerned, opting to instead let the cult-status retro lines and range of solid colour options speak for themselves.
The co-branding partnership allowed Smeg to experiment with bold, extravagant patterns and appeal to collectors and lovers of high fashion, while D&G earned a rare opportunity to expand and imprint on a market it would otherwise likely never explore. This is truly an instance where two entities with nearly nothing to do with one another – other than a shared commitment to honing a distinctive and proprietary style – leveraged and bridged that difference for the optimal effect.
Creative collaboration at its best.
KFC Russia x Mam Cupy
Are we living in a golden age of fast food fashion collabs? Maybe.
From McDonalds’ limited merch drop designed by hip hop artist Travis Scott to Dunkin Donuts hair accessories inspired by TikTok stars, fast food companies are acutely aware that Gen Z is buying into what they are serving up – and we’re not even talking about food, here.
There’s definitely a winking irony (a distinctly Gen Z sensibility) behind the success of these clothing releases. It almost seems like the sillier, the better. This is why KFC Russia’s bucket hat – designed to reference the iconic fried chicken vessel, and not subtly – is such a genius move.
Russian streetwear brand Mam Cupy designed the hats in the signature red-and-white stripe, also featuring the fashion label’s own logos. The product is a playful acknowledgement of the bucket hat’s return to mainstream fashion. And the unselfconscious, unserious nostalgia of fast food branding is hard to dismiss – so why not “make it fashion.”
EVA Air + Hello Kitty
Let’s face it: extra-long-haul air travel just isn’t fun. That’s what makes the airport and planes themselves such a no-brainer for brand experiences – not to mention the captive audience element.
Taiwanese airline EVA Air partnered with Hello Kitty to outfit a Boeing 777 connecting Houston and Taipei with images of Sanrio’s most recognizable character and her friends. The brand makeover was more than a flying billboard – passengers got to use branded items like pillows and pink plastic cutlery while watching special in-flight programming, spending the duration of their journey in the Hello Kitty world en route to or from Taipei.
The collaboration allowed EVA Air to inject unexpected cheer into the tiring ordeal of a long-haul flight, while Hello Kitty and Sanrio gained the rare opportunity to entertain at 42,000 feet.
London Design Museum x Bombay Sapphire x Independent Emerging Artists
One could argue that collaboration is at the heart of the vast majority of all art and creativity. In the midst of a pandemic, a project undertaken by a museum, a spirits company and a group of designers proved just that. During a time when arts infrastructure has been all but extinguished, the London Design Museum partnered with Bombay Sapphire to elevate the work of emerging artists in an extra-creative way.
While museums and galleries would remain closed, they sought to benefit from the easing of restrictions for retail businesses while also commenting on the state of the arts and what is considered “essential” during this time. The result: a museum gift shop transformed into a cartoon-ish supermarket, where shoppers could purchase everyday grocery items that were works of art in their own right.
Bombay Sapphire has a track record of design-centric partnerships and events, but the creative problem-solving that brought this into being sets this one apart. The surrealist shopping experience invited visitors to consider the idea that creativity itself is essential – and collaboration, too.
Weetabix x Heinz
— Weetabix (@weetabix) February 9, 2021
Effective brand collaborations don’t have to require the often steep costs of elaborate product manufacturing or event planning. Savvy social media managers use the digital space to make a splash with virtual collaborations – although the low barrier to entry means that the bar for capturing and maintaining the attention of an audience is quite high.
The other viral brand campaigns in this list required months, possibly years between the initial lightbulb through to launch. This campaign definitely didn’t.
Weetabix went for shock value with its borderline-absurdist collaboration with Heinz, tweeting out a styled tabletop tableau featuring canned beans spread over a dry wheat cake and asking “why should bread have all the fun?” The suggested pairing was just strange enough (and gross enough) to spark a mass (mostly) outrage, starting exactly the kind of exaggerated but low-stakes Brand Twitter conversation that yields maximum exposure. What followed was a pile-on of other brands trying to get in on the silliness. KFC even went so far as to ask fast-casual Portuguese chicken franchise Nando’s if they’d consider putting differences aside to prosecute Weetabix for war crimes.
You okay hun? DM’s are open if you need to talk 💖
— Nando’s (@NandosUK) February 9, 2021
Look at what you’ve done now … pic.twitter.com/XdVD3uTOJf
— Google UK (@GoogleUK) February 9, 2021
And suddenly we’re kind of okay with the international borders being closed.
— Virgin Australia (@VirginAustralia) February 9, 2021
— Ford UK (@forduk) February 9, 2021
And so on…
While it’s unclear whether it’s boosted sales, (or whether this was even good press,) there have definitely been in the billions of brand impressions around this campaign.
These co-branding examples are more than the sum of their parts
What’s so great about these campaigns, beside a general “wow” factor, is that these combinations of great creative and effective collaboration have delivered highly memorable executions. The results are clearly much more powerful than any individual partner could’ve achieved independently.
Whether it’s about finding brand partners, a new teammate, or even creative collaboration tools, there are exponential possibilities in working collaboratively. Seek it, find it, build it – and you’ll reap the rewards.