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We are used to seeing brand partnerships where brands with shared values come together to broaden their reach and maybe cachet. However, what we have seen more recently are brand collisions and mash-ups, where on the surface, it’s not as obvious as to why they’ve come together.
Perhaps when thinking about potential collaborations, shared brand values aren’t enough anymore. Perhaps we need to go beyond and think how the category clash contributes to culture: Is their sum bigger than the parts, and does that sum reach beyond the expanded audience into culture at large?
An easy layup of brand values and design
We are used to the common collaborations in fashion where we see high street retailers partnering with couture designers to drive news, footfall and brand cachet. For example, Uniqlo and Jil Sander, Target with Rachel Comey and H&M with Karl Lagerfeld are amongst the many collaborations that have followed this tried and tested formula.
The good ones share brand values in design, even if they are used to creating at different price points, and therefore attract different audiences.
Uniqlo is a Japanese brand known for simple, clean design. Jil Sander is also known for minimalist design and has been described as “The Queen of Less”—so partnering with Uniqlo to create the +J collection made sense.
A clash … or contribution to culture?
However, some of the more recent mash-ups are more curious—Vans and USPS, KFC and Crocs and Telfar and White Castle. It’s unlikely that these brand mash-ups have the same brand values on the surface.
The USPS Vans collection is positioned as a tribute to the hard-working USPS staff. Their shared brand values? American grit and hard work.
The clash of these two categories creates a tribute to the workers that are the backbone of America. Arguably, this is their cultural contribution. In this instance, there was community contribution, too, as the range generated much-needed revenue for the Postal Service.
KFC and Crocs is another great example. While you might think this collaboration is absurd, it’s worth pointing out that these Crocs sold out in half an hour.
Following the new order equation, there’s definitely a category clash. The rigor of shared values is less apparent—perhaps it’s the obsession that fuels fast food and fashion. Bringing the two together adds to the rise of food in pop culture.
As Matthew Sedacca wrote for Eater in 2018, food companies are being strategic in their merch creations—so much so that their customers are willing to pay for the items they feel resemble them. Similar to Vans and USPS, the collaboration also delivered a contribution to the community, with a $3 donation from every pair sold going to the KFC Foundation’s REACH Educational Grant Program, which helps their employees further their college education.
There’s also been a huge rise in fashion and gaming collaborations in the last year. Gucci, for example, has partnered with Animal Crossing, Roblox, Pokémon Go, The Sims, Genies, Tennis Clash and League of Legends. Burberry’s presence in Honor of Kings reaches new audiences that might grow into the brand, and both benefit from the associated commerce.
Again, we not only see a great category clash between both fashion and gaming but also between real world and virtual world—the two coming together create a new way for people to express themselves.
It pays to get it right
As brands continue to collaborate, we might want to think beyond their shared brand values to what the category clashes could contribute towards culture. A deliciously absurd brand mash-up or collision can make consumers notice, talk, share and engage with your brand. And if you get it right, they’ll also pay a premium for what you are dropping.
Experimentation and collaboration are the new currency. The innovative and unexpected are driving culture, cache and—dare I say it—a little bit of cool.