From Heineken and Krups to Pierre Hardy and Peugeot, more and more companies are joining forces – and labels – in an effort to give their respective brands an added buzz.
PARIS -- What could be more French than Petit Bateau and an LBD (Little Black Dress)? How about a combination of the two. Petit Bateau, the famous French clothing brand, has decided to do just that by drawing on the talents of a fashion guest star: Didier Ludot, famous for his vintage LBD collection.
This is not the first time Petit Bateau has worked side-by-side with outside designers and fashion celebrities to launch small collections that have ended up having a major impact on sales. Past collaborations involved Tsumori Chisato, a Japanese fashion creator, and Kitsuné, a French fashion and electronic music label.
In the marketing world, such collaborations are known as "co-branding." The phenomenon isn't exactly new. There are examples from the 1960s of cleaning product manufacturers allying with clothing companies to increase the prestige of both brands. What had been a case of isolated examples, however, now appears to be a full fledged trend.
Examples of contemporary co-branding abound: between carmakers and watchmakers (Aston Martin and Jaeger-LeCoultre, Bentley and Breitling), and more commonly – as in the case with Petit Bateau and Didier Ludot – between clothing brands and designers. Uniqlo has collaborated with Jil Sander. H&M has co-branded with Karl Lagerfeld.
Several factors have helped the phenomenon develop. First is the disappearance of boundaries between luxury, high-standard and mass market products. The new head of Louis Vuitton personifies the trend. Before being hired as CEO of the high-end fashion firm, he worked for Danone, best known for producing yoghurt.
But as market lines blur, competitors risk resembling each other too much. Many mid-level brands, for example, have taken their cues from luxury brands in an effort to create an "affordable" luxury market. The experiment has proven successful in some cases. But from the customer's perspective, it's more difficult to know where one mid-market brand begins and a more high-level one ends. Hence the need for brands to reinvent themselves – to surprise their customers. Co-branding can be one way of accomplishing that.
Social networks add even more pressure, compelling brands to constantly come up with something new. Raphaël de Andreis, president of a communications agency called BETC Euro RSCG, says brands feel the need to update their Facebook pages at least once or twice a week. Launching a guest-designer collection can be just the kind of event a brand needs to keep the social network buzzing. "It can become a talking point, which is a social network's fuel," he says.
The best of both worlds
The co-branding strategy can also be about companies launching products that combine their various areas of expertise. LU, famous for its classic plain tea biscuit, and Côte d'Or, a chocolate brand, partnered on a chocolate cookie project. Beer giant Heineken and Krups, known for its coffee machines, joined forces to make the "BeerTender," a product that customers can use to serve up draft beer at home.
Another even more imaginative example of co-branding was the collaboration between designer Pierre Hardy and Peugeot, which asked the former to come up with a product to help women drive – in high heels! Pierre Hardy created two-in-one high-heeled sandals that can "transform" into ultra-flat driving shoes. The co-branding effort gave Pierre Hardy access to a technology he would never have dreamt of: carbon fibre. For Peugeot, the collaboration helped the company involve more women in its testing teams.
Like Pierre Hardy and Peugeot, Mini Austin and Russel Hobbs also joined forces with very different goals in mind. Last November, Russel Hobbs, a household appliance manufacturer, launched its exclusive Mini Classic Collection in France. The collection involved black and white checked kettles, toasters and coffee machines in the style of the iconic British car.
Mini, already popular with male executive types, hopes the collaboration will help attract more middle-class women. Russell Hobbs, for its part, is hoping Mini's cross-channel popularity will help it increase sales in France, where the brand doesn't enjoy as much name recognition as it does in the UK.
Read the original story in French
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