Rick and Morty and the Need for Bravery in Brand Partnerships

Adult Swim and Wendy's talk taking risks at Adweek's Convergent TV summit

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When the popular Adult Swim series Rick and Morty joined forces with Wendy’s in June to unveil a themed pop-up restaurant in Los Angeles, along with two new drink mixes—Mello Yello Berry Jerryboree and Mello Yello Portal Time Lemon Lime—it was a risk.

The animated sci-fi show had teamed up with other companies in the past. Pringles is one example. Beverage brand Miracle Seltzer is another.

But because Rick and Morty fans are so devoted to the series, there’s always the possibility that a new partnership, such as with a fast-food chain, might backfire, according to Tricia Melton, CMO of global kids, young adults and classics at Warner Brothers, which oversees Adult Swim.

“If we take a misstep and do something that feels wildly out of character for Rick, Morty or any of the characters in the show, we would hear about it immediately,” Melton said at Adweek’s virtual Convergent TV summit in conversation with streaming editor Kelsey Sutton.

Then again, while being safe is prudent, being super safe can be downright dangerous.

Beginning with a foundation of braveness, after all, is “where great stuff happens,” said James Bennett, vp of marketing at Wendy’s. “If you continue pushing and have that courage to go out there and put put stuff in the world, that’s where you get the most positive reactions.”

Other elements also play a role in establishing a successful relationship between brands. Having a similar tone of voice, for instance, and finding a way for both parties to bring something of value to the project that somehow elevates the other.

“Trust is the No. 1 factor in building these types of partnerships,” said Kim Yates, svp and head of client sales and partnerships at WarnerMedia.

Yates noted that while not every idea is going to be a home run, taking risks together can foster trust, which, in turn, can lead to the “authenticity of the entire program.”