All good marketing partnerships need to be a win-win for the brands involved. But brilliant marketing partnerships are also clever, unexpected, and make people say, “ok, now THAT’S cool.” It’s not just that the benefit to consumers is valuable…it’s that the creation of the partnership itself makes an impression.
The partnership gods must be working overtime lately because I’ve seen four spectacular ones pop up in the past month. These are worth a salute, plus they offer inspiration and learning opportunities for smaller, less well-funded businesses.
Before we explore them, it’s worth noting that in this context, a partnership is defined simply as two distinctly known brands coming together for a shared purpose. It doesn’t matter who paid whom, or how the financial outcome gets distributed. It’s about the brilliance of two brands unexpectedly aligning. Ready? Let’s go.
The Players: Legendary country music artist/entrepreneur Dolly Parton and prolific author of thriller and mystery novels James Patterson.
The Partnership: A thriller novel to be released in 2022 entitled “Run, Rose, Run” about an aspiring country music singer with a dark secret. The two are collaborating on plot and story elements for the novel, and Parton will simultaneously release an album of the same name, with 12 original songs inspired by the novel.
Why We Love It: It’s a completely new idea. An original book that promotes an original album…that in turn promotes the original book? Each one draws the power of its distinct audience (Patterson book fans and Parton music fans) to inspire interest in the other. The cross-marketing opportunities are absolutely bonkers on this concept (“bonkers” being a highly technical marketing term for “limitless and insanely exciting”). The book and the album are organically linked, so as you get vested in the characters and story through one, you are bound to be curious about the other. And we’re just calling it right now: there’s a Run, Rose, Run movie or streaming series in all our futures.
What You Can Learn: Just because something’s never been done before, doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Don’t just look for your partnership options among the usual suspects. Can a hotel or destination partner with a band to write an original album based on its history and offerings? Can a local coffee house partner with a local gardening supply store? Can an amusement park partner with a haircare products company? You bet.
The Players: Food brand Oscar Mayer – well known for its wiener hot dogs – and popular ridesharing service Lyft.
The Partnership: From August 25-27 in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, riders who hailed a Lyft XL could have been surprised by a pickup from the legendary Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Not only did that come with bragging rights and shareworthy content for the lucky riders, but the ride was free and they got swag.
Why We Love It: First of all…it’s hilarious. And after the wet blanket purgatory we’ve all experienced from the pandemic, frivolous fun is a welcome change. But also, it’s a brilliant partnership because it has so many layers. There are PR opportunities before, during, and after each rideshare blitz. The Wienermobile gets to cruise the streets for three days in four major cities. Odds are at least some of the riders have decent social media followings and will share with glee. And highly arresting video/photo visual opportunities exist across a ton of marketing channels.
What You Can Learn: This partnership is all about providing the element of surprise to guests. Lyft ride hailers expect a typical SUV to arrive for their pick up… they will lose their minds with joy when the Wienermobile shows up instead. Where can YOU provide a pop of unexpected joy in what would otherwise be a typical, ordinary experience for your guests?
The Players: Popular peanut butter brand Jif and successful rap artist Ludacris.
The Partnership: The two teamed up for a commercial that shows Ludacris trying to record a new rap song and failing miserably with each take. Then, after eating a huge spoonful of Jif in between takes, he nails it…because the way the peanut butter sticks to his mouth and makes him mumble is the PERFECT style for his new song.
Why We Love It: Whether you love rap or not, it’s a common observation that it’s often really hard to understand what’s being said in a rap song. And whether you love peanut butter or not, everyone knows peanut butter has the pesky tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth. So the fact that BOTH brands involved were willing to poke fun at themselves with this collaboration? Genius. Whoever thought of this partnership deserves a medal.
What You Can Learn: Let your hair down sometimes. People love humor and they love when a brand is both humble and confident enough to admit their “flaws.” Note that the flaw you cop to can’t be a serious thing or else poking fun at yourself will backfire. Like, if you’re known for paying poor wages or implementing poor environmental practices, you definitely don’t want to draw scrutiny there. But if – for example – you’ve got notoriously long wait times at your restaurant, you can certainly turn that into a positive and have fun with it instead of ignoring it. See how this eatery in Colorado made it work.
The Players: American fast food restaurant franchise Subway and multiple businesses in local markets, including Bob’s Discount Furniture.
The Partnership: As a way to break through the clutter and gain attention for its new menu items, Subway is doing a “takeover” of TV commercials from other advertisers. Here’s what happens: a Subway ad listing all its new menu items gets cut off before finishing…and then when the next commercial starts for a different advertiser, Subway interrupts the commercial and takes over the ad. All the partner advertisers still get to hawk their own products. The “takeover” commercial is a jointly produced, shared spotlight. See the Bob’s Discount Furniture takeover ad here and see other Subway takeover ad partnerships here.
Why We Love It: Lordy, it’s hard to get folks to pay attention to commercials. But this quirky, untraditional approach is bound to cut through the clutter. Regular TV viewers who are only half listening and already desensitized to hearing endless Subway commercials and endless Bob’s Discount Furniture commercials are likely to stop in their tracks to see/hear something they never expected: Furniture mascot “Little Bob” selling Subway sandwiches. This is true of all the takeover ad partners, like the local personal injury lawyer whose long-standing ad you could recite by heart, or the car dealership whose jingle gets stuck in your head all the time.
What You Can Learn: Never say never, y’all. Not only are these partnerships completely unexpected from brands that are completely unrelated, but also…really? Sure companies have bought ad space from each other before, but it’s usually done so one can OWN the space…not so they can share it with a joint “takeover ad.” Maybe you can’t afford your own local TV ad spots to allow enough frequency to penetrate consumer awareness, but what if you found a partner or two and created collaborative ads? And this is not “you take the first 15 seconds and I’ll take the last 15 seconds.” Rather, it’s more like “let’s marry our messages and have some fun.” Again, going back to the local coffee house and the local gardening supply company…no one would EVER expect to see them marketing together, so a collaborative TV ad might just snap folks to attention.
These brilliant partnerships all capture the spirit of surprise because no one ever expected these brands to pair up. And the element of surprise is a gift to marketers everywhere. People love to be caught off guard with something atypical that’s also positive, clever, and joyful… see how we partnered MSC Cruises with automaker FIAT in a way no one ever expected. Tap that vein of “surprise” marketing goodness whenever you can.
And pssst… this doesn’t just work for partnerships. Look at how Book Culture surprises its shoppers.