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Market solution for the lonely hearts club brand

Brand alliances are one of the smartest marketing moves of the late 20th century and gaining exponentially in happily married partners every week. There was, a while ago, much speculation about the death of the brand. Do we have simply too many products leading to market saturation? Is there too much hype, PR and advertising around brands? Do brands struggle in markets where there is fierce 'me too' competition? asks Adrian Whitefoord, co-founder of design agency Pemberton & Whitefoord.

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One logical and quite simply a "no brainer" way of confounding the doom mongers was brands teaming up with one another to create strong associations, causing the consumer see both brands in a an entirely new light. Together, the brands make a stronger proposition in the mind of the consumer and can benefit from each other's heritage and desirability. Put quite simply, branding alliances were the brand face lift of the late 90's and still continue to be the makeover flavour of the month for scores of well known names.

 

For example, I'm sure seasoned business travellers have noticed the trend and examples proliferate wherever you look. For example in transit there is Pizzeria Uno on American Airlines flights and United Airlines' Starbucks Coffee offer. And, when you arrive at your destination and check into an upmarket B&B like Le Meridien in London you'll find luxurious Hermes toiletries. This trend is now so entrenched that partnerships exist in almost all good hotels and even lifestyle magazines include this kind of information in their hotel reviews.
 
Cars aren't immune either. Aston Martin makes much of its relationship with Scottish hi-fi manufacturer Linn while Porsche has opted for Bose and Jaguar set up an alliance with Harman Kardman almost 10 years ago. Alliances can create a stronger overall package than trying to overstretch a brand. These days Jaguar make great cars but a Jaguar branded hi-fi has almost as little appeal as a Harman Kardman sports coupe, ie very little.
 
And it doesn't stop at the sound systems either. Bentley and Breitling have got together and now the up-market watchmaker has created a dashboard clock for the Bentley Continental GT. And Rocaro seats have found their way into a number of automotive alliances. Most recently appearing in Jaguar's new XKR range. Yes, I'm sure we can all remember the times when Rocaro were just the flash racing seats purchased in Halford's by petrol heads and squeezed into beaten up old bangers with over-bored engines and fluffy dice. But now they are the preserve of the ambitiously fast-moving middle-aged consumer who wants to feel a bit Formula 1 as he sits in a traffic jam on the M4.
 
Cars are a big part of our lives and acknowledging our undying devotion to the internal combustion engine and the metal and plastic shell that surrounds it will give brands access to a whole hinterland of branding opportunities as people buy the lifestyle that goes with the jalopy. For example, you can buy exclusive Mini driving shoes, based on Puma's motor sport shoe.
 
A lot of co-branding of course is also customer-led and none less so than the frustration of not being able to plug your iPod into the sound system when you are at the wheel. So, early adopters like BMW courted Apple with an adapter that enabled iPod owners to plug it into a cable in the glove department, connecting it to the car's stereo system.
 
Soon, all car manufacturers realised that they needed to get a slice of the iPod action and Mini (BMW owned) followed suit with the rest of the automotive world urging their customers to "iPod their ride". Companies now teaming up with Apple to deliver iPod integration in 2005 include Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Nissan, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari.
 
And when dining out, don't be surprised to find Haagen-Dazs ice cream on the menu of even upmarket restaurants. It all points to consumers on the road increasingly wanting to find the brands they trust and enjoy at home (United Airlines' in-board coffee approval shot up to 87% when it introduced Starbucks).
 
It doesn't all have to be about flash cars and expensive watches, although Philips and Unilever for example brought about the Perfective steam iron. The alliance was intended to bring the world a better (or in their own words "revolutionary") ironing experience. It's all about a Philips iron incorporating a specially developed cartridge containing an anti-crease agent, provided by Robijn, one of Unilever's garment care brands.
 
Philips and Unilever's extensive market research has shown that when it comes to ironing, the consumer wants a perfect end result without having to spend too much time. The Perfective will first be launched in The Netherlands, where Philips is the market leader in traditional irons. Priced at €99 (with cartridges costing €3.99 a pop), Philips hopes to sell 300,000 irons in the first six months after launch (source: Volkskrant).
 
Adidas and Goodyear: cool sneakers with Goodyear rubber soles. After all, if Puma partners with Mini Cooper, and Nike Air with Cole Haan, why not claim leadership in burning superior rubber?
 
Duracell, Oral-B, Braun and Disney: not two, but four brands coming together in a funky battery toothbrush. Each brand brings it own 'core competence': Duracell for battery life, Oral-B for dental hygiene, Braun for electronics and Disney for design and entertainment.
 
Heineken and Krups BeerTender. The concept comprises of a professional beer tap and proprietary, compact 4-litre Heineken kegs for the home, co-created by Heineken and Krups. This excellent branded brands example, reminiscent of the Philips/Sara Lee Senseo coffee machine, is a big success in its test market. In the first week after being launched in The Netherlands, Heineken sold 3,000 taps, and since then, according to a spokesperson for the company, sales have surpassed even Heineken's "hype scenario". Heineken now plans to sell the appliance in other countries as well.
 
Meanwhile, virtually every other appliance manufacturer and coffee brand have jumped on this branded brands bandwagon: gourmet appliance maker Salton has its Melitta One:One coffee machine, a joint venture with German coffee company Melitta Group. Procter & Gamble, with coffee brands Folgers and Millstone, is shooting for a bigger platform, hawking its Home Café in collaboration with Applica, Krups, Sunbeam, and others. Nescafe's Nespresso has teamed up with several appliance makers, including Saeco International, Alessi and Miele. Going beyond coffee, Kraft now makes Kenco and Carte Noire (coffee), Suchard (hot chocolate) and Twinings (tea) branded discs for the Tassimo, a "hot beverage system" manufactured by Braun. Brand alliances are about symbiosis, the dictionary definition of which is; "a close association which is often but not always of mutual benefit". We naturally tend to think of brand alliances in a positive context as with the examples above but we should not ignore the broader business context:
 
"Companies are turning to strategic alliances in order to manage their uncertainty of risk and specifically to access a wide range of competencies, technologies, and markets. However, the success rate of strategic alliances has been mixed-as many as 70% of alliances fail." Carlson School of Management.
 
Brand guardians must think about the long-term implications of symbiotic branding, not just short term gain, if relationships are to be considered a real success and potential is to be maximised.

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