The pandemic has ushered in a prevailing spirit of generosity. We’ve needed to lean on each other to pull through these difficult times. Now, vaccines are making a future full of hugs, reunions, and vibrant communal gatherings feel within our reach. Some are predicting a roaring twenties-style, post-pandemic boom of creativity. Our desire for togetherness is inherently human. After a period of widespread hardship, people feel compelled to rebuild and shape a hopeful vision for the future. Back in January, Elevate predicted that brands would also opt for teamwork. A crisis called for collective action; many businesses have worked together in unexpected ways. If you have noticed a sudden rise in appearances of those tell-tale ‘X’ between brand logos, it’s no coincidence. Brand collaboration is becoming a buoyant way forward.
Here are some of the ways brands are going for it, and what they stand to gain.
Consider Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog’s friendship. A surprising collaboration with a sense of humour can be a good way to keep the internet on your side. Last year Crocs and KFC created an irreverent fried chicken clog. This year, e.l.f Cosmetics partnered with Chipotle for limited edition makeup inspired by Chipotle’s most beloved menu items. The best partnerships are still ultimately informed by strategy. While these examples seem random, they clearly hone in on Gen Z’s love of absurdity and a viral social media moment. Sometimes, it’s the serendipity of an unexpected ‘perfect match’ that makes for the appeal. For example, meditation app Calm, dominated the conversation after they partnered with CNN during high-tension coverage of the 2020 US Presidential debate.
The fashion industry loves a collab, and these days, there are some good ones. Gucci x The North Face’s 1970s inspired collaboration was one of the most highly anticipated launches of the season. Connecting over mutual themes of ‘adventure’ and ‘self-expression’, these two iconic brands doubled their gravitas by working together, capitalising on the passion of both sets of fans to create something that was greater than the sum of its parts. Similarly, Kim Jones x Converse brought together prolific high fashion designer Kim Jones’s vision and the signature Chuck. Elevating a classic and merging a refined design with comfort—something we can expect plenty of as we emerge from lockdown. Another successful collaboration is Ganni x Levi. With deference to Levi’s expertise in denim, and using ‘cottonized hemp’ (a responsible alternative to cotton), they created a timeless and playful collection. Irish cashmere designer Lucy Nagle recently worked with both Pippa O’Connor and Vogue Williams to co-create bespoke collections. The ideal collaboration plays to each brands individual strengths to lend authenticity.
In this time when it is easy for brands to stray into things like ‘greenwashing’ or ‘pinkwashing,’ a collaboration with a brand that shares your values can be the ideal way to prove you genuinely care. For a large brand sharing the spotlight with a smaller one that is more intimately connected to the cause you want to support, demonstrates credibility and a commitment to learning. For Pride Month, US fashion retailer, Nordstrom, collaborated with inclusive fashion brand Wild Fang for a collection designed for ‘smashing gender norms.’ This can also work for two larger brands when the areas of passion are especially aligned. This was the case with the highly sought after Nike x Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Dunky trainers. With their mutual sponsorship of Colin Kaepernick and stances on racial justice, working together amplified both brands’ messages.
Sharing the Mic
Consumers continue to be energised about supporting local. As Emma Kelly and Claire Feely discussed in their most recent Instagram Live talk of ‘The New PR Toolkit,’ there is a big opportunity for brands to collaborate with up and coming artists and creatives, especially after a year where sectors like the arts have been so badly affected by the pandemic. In Ireland, the Kilkenny Shop and Visa Ireland have worked together to support Champion Green, which facilitated pop-up retail locations for local designers like Jill & Gill. In the US, Nicole Richie’s Brand, House of Harlow1960, partnered with Etsy to co-create a homeware collection with small businesses on the site. As retail locations begin to reopen and are looking for creative ways to drive foot traffic, hosting a small business pop-up within your store is a great way to capitalize on this community spirit. In a recent talk with Elevate, Aoife Smith, director of Movement Events, even encouraged small brands to ‘dream big’ and to not be afraid of making the first move when approaching larger retailers with their ideas. As we look to the future, whether a brand is commissioning an artist, or bringing in an influencer, conversation should be flowing both ways. True collaboration is the name of the game.