Brand collabs: bonkers or brilliant?

Paul Mcentee

April 11, 2023

Brand collaborations – the unholy matrimony of two brands to create a new entity, followed by a consensual decoupling – has been hot marketing real estate recently.

It’s not new (ref: Stan Smith x Adidas, c.1965) but has exploded in popularity in recent years. This year has already seen Absolut x Heinz and Nike x Tiffany, while 2022 threw up Lays x Balenciaga (yes, crisps and luxury handbags), Balmain x Barbie, and Greggs x Primark, to name a few.

Is this a gold rush to the middle, with brands capitalising on the cultural cachet of their partners, while cashing in on the hype bubble created? Or are we witnessing desperation: the final throw of the dice as marketers run out of ideas at the end of the stewardship of their brand?

The answer lies between, of course, but not every ‘x’ marks the spot.

Marketers sometimes miss the point, filling the world with more new stuff we don’t need. In their defence, we, the consumer, have created this momentum. With a reported attention span of eight seconds for millennials, one for Gen Z and potentially nano-seconds for Gen Alpha, brands cannot accelerate NPD fast enough to meet demand, so a swift and seemingly satisfying brand partnership fills the void.

But all that glitters is not gold. Here are some considerations when planning your mash-up:


When choosing a brand to team up with, opting for a surprising partner isn’t always funny anymore. Show integrity by joining forces with a brand that matches your values; aside from looking more discerning, you’ll also be more likely to achieve audience pollination. Be wary of provocative brands that could risk brand safety in the future.

Make it accessible

The hype bubble can ratchet up demand, but what’s the point when the collab is unobtainable? Some of the best collabs democratise luxury by making it affordable via a more mainstream partner. The quid pro quo is that the luxury brand benefits from the PR halo of the moment, while creating a new pool of future aspirational customers.

Build, don’t badge

A collaboration is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Consumers are no longer satisfied with stamping two logos on a hero product; create something reflecting both brands, but looking like it couldn't have been made without the help of the other.

Combine your resources

When it’s GTM time, pool your resources, creatives and ideas, rather than relying on the marketing machine of just one brand. Your campaign and social activations should be as much of an engaging, interesting team effort as the collection itself.

Keep it special

Use collaborations sparingly and at the right time. Don’t resort to churning them out to try to get quick clout – you’ll soon cannibalise each collaboration and make them less impactful.

Give back

For bonus points, offer something beneficial beyond a new product. Whether it’s bringing a relevant charity into the mix, supporting one another’s causes or putting people over profit, prove we’re truly better together.