The golden rules of brand match-making

Brand partnerships can be like a dream marriage… or a nightmare. Zinc’s Rob Macolino shares his three must-dos and three must-don’ts for the perfect brand match.


Working in an agency environment we have the opportunity and privilege to work on multiple brands at any one time, and are in a unique position of understanding the marketing objectives and strategies for all of our different clients.

And while this is not a request that comes at us all that often, I feel it’s one that marketers should be asking: how can agencies open up new marketing opportunities for me? What other brands share my values and in many cases, my audience? Or better still, what brand partnerships could expose my brand to a whole new audience?

This is where the beauty of brand match-making comes in, and how we, as the perfectly-positioned middle men, are in the fortunate position of being able to identify priceless opportunities where two brands share common ground, where two brands can potentially come together, and where can we make sparks fly.

Marketers’ priorities can tend to be inwards, not out, and therefore may lack the time or resources to fully assess all the opportunities that may be waiting to be pounced on. Furthermore, considering a licensed solution within a brand’s marketing plan might not always be a top-of-mind option, with many marketers so used to the tradition model of marketing.

Try to identify the ones who they share similarities and where an exciting brand partnership could emerge. An agency’s advantage is it can take a clinical look at each individual client’s business and marketing objectives, find that brilliant brand-match between two clients, and go to them with a proactive campaign.

I see the role of agencies in this intricate field as the middle-men who are capable of trying to shake things up within the traditional marketing mix, and capable of finding a new and probably far more sustainable way for brands to extend into new categories without the big media costs involved.

The important thing to remember, though, is that every pairing, every brand-match, and every partnership proposed must be of value to both clients involved, and be mutually beneficial.


Top three DOs of brand-matching

1. DO respect the IP

Approaching a large, well-established household brand to begin a partnership may be a daunting thought for many marketers. And sure enough, the question begs to be asked: why would they want to work with us? This is where the importance of respecting each other’s intellectual property and brand values comes into play.

The solution, quite simply, just like every other great marketing idea, is to start with a solid concept. A concept that marries both brands’ values, and one that will make people sit up and go: ‘But of course!’

The biggest hesitation most brands face when entering into joint partnership is allowing a third party to influence the way their brand is presented. With proper care and understanding of each brand’s values and each brand’s marketing objectives, the right big idea can help both parties gain valuable brand exposure and a new revenue stream by entering a different category.

2. DO understand where each other is coming from and going to

With licensed products formed out of brand partnerships, I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is for the coupling to be of value, and to make sense. Customers, while always eager for innovative and exciting new products, can also very quickly see through ones that aren’t formed out of strong insights and brand understanding.

Lego is one of the best brands to study in the field of licensing and brand partnerships. Traditionally a simple building blocks toy brand loved by children around the world, the company began to lose market share during the late 90s and early 2000s.

Today, the brand has once again revived itself as a leading major toy company in part by enlisting the help of iconic media brands along the way, including Star Wars, Harry Potter and Batman. These partnerships opened up a whole new domain for Lego, and saw them venturing into video and computer games, and most recently, releasing a highly successful movie that was a box-office hit. All licensed products were designed extremely well, and stayed true to both sides’ identity and brand essence. Lego fans will certain attest to how extraordinary the Lego version of Star Wars vehicles and Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s castle looked. I believe that it is the authentic partnerships that Lego built, merging its rich history and durability with contemporary cultural icons that has really helped take the brand to a whole new level.

A fantastic Australian example of the perfect brand match is the partnership between Coles and MasterChef Australia. Building a scaled-down Coles supermarket right on the set of the MasterChef kitchen, obtaining sponsorship rights to recipes featured on the MasterChef website, and in turn having a dedicated MasterChef recipes page on the Coles website – these are all brilliant examples of the synergy that occurs when two well-aligned brands come together. In fact, according to a report in The Australian, Coles has enjoyed “dramatic sales increases of ingredients”, with astounding results like 480% increase in the sale of diced pork, following ingredients and products being featured on the program.

3. DO make it desirable for the consumer

Hitting that eureka moment where the perfect big idea takes shape requires plenty of homework to be done. As mentioned above, understanding both brands’ values is crucial. However, another essential part of the equation is being keenly aware of what consumers want, and how far will they go to be part of your big idea.

The desirability factor for a novel product, event or partnership will determine whether or not the idea succeeds, but it certainly does not have to be a process of reinventing the wheel either. For the launch of The Lego Movie in Australia, Hoyts Cinemas (disclosure: and Zinc) designed cups to resemble that of the movie title treatment, delivering a product that looks and feels true to the Lego brand, and even sparked off a separate social media campaign.

Other brand partnerships that have utilised consumer buying insights include the Ferrari and Puma collaboration that releases designer limited-edition sportswear that has gained popularity within the racing, sporting and general fashion-conscious male community.


Top three DON’Ts of brand-matching

1. DON’T over-saturate

On one hand, there are brands who are extremely protective of their IP and how they are presented to the public (and rightfully so). However, there are also instances where slightly over-zealous brands have taken a one-size-fits-all approach, and attached their name and logo to a variety of products that do not necessarily form a right fit.

While I won’t name names, you will undoubtedly notice certain brands that seem to have their names and logos placed on every product category in the market. There is no longer an air of exclusivity to these partnership products, and the desirability factor for consumers no longer exists.

2. DON’T logo slap

Launching a new or revised product simply for the sake of slapping a well-known partner-brand’s logo on it is one of the biggest mistakes brands can make. Without proper relevance, today’s consumers can very clearly see through the marketing ploy, and are savvy enough to know when a new product does not bring any added value compared to its competitor products.

One area of licensing that is highly prone to ‘logo-slapping’ is celebrity endorsements. While products like fragrances and cosmetics, sportswear and even cooking equipment are common place, and have proven to be successful when well aligned with the right ambassador, lately we have been seeing product endorsements that have caused a few raised eyebrows.

Toothbrushes endorsed by a boyband? A Hollywood thespian promoting a lottery company? A rock‘n’roll legend fronting an ad-campaign for a butter-alternative spread? Go figure.

3. DON’T assume you understand your client’s needs

This pointer is more relevant to agency-based marketers, but it’s important for brand and marketing managers to be aware of this too.

Understanding a brand’s marketing objectives and communicating the right values and message is not as simple as just being familiar with the brand or its existing products and partnerships. Never assume that applying a license or partner-brand to your client’s brand is going to be instantaneously beneficial, when it could possibly be the further thing away from their marketing plan at that very moment.

Ask questions, find out if there’s a target market they’re hoping to reach, have discussions over what other categories would present potential opportunities. With a wealth of information under your belt, put your thinking caps on and be ready to challenge traditional partnerships to create brand matches that will leave both your clients and the consumers blown away.


Rob Macolino is innovation and licensing director at Zinc.