The Odd Couple: Unlikely Marketing Collaborations
In this episode, we look at what happens when seemingly unrelated companies decide to partner up. By pooling their resources and, more importantly, by leveraging each other's strengths, unlikely brands collaborate to achieve much more than they could have achieved alone. We'll look at a hotel that partnered with an animal rescue organization by bringing dogs into the hotel, a budget-priced car that redefined the term "luxury vehicle" by teaming up with Prada and how NASA got the public to support the space industry using...a toy. Sometimes, odd couples click. And what they create together is highly unusual and unique.
One of my favourite Merrie Melodies cartoons is the one titled "A Sheep In The Deep."
Created by Chuck Jones in 1962, it tells a story of Sam the sheepdog, who guards a flock of sheep, and Ralph the Wolf, who tries to eat the sheep.
The best moment in the cartoon is when Sam and Ralph "punch-in" in the morning.
Just two guys with a job to do.
That odd partnership has an interesting parallel in real life.
A study done by the University of California recently confirmed what Indigenous People have known for centuries.
That coyotes and badgers hunt together.
It's unusual for two different species to tag team, but coyotes and badgers do.
See, coyotes and badgers have a mutual goal. They both like to eat small, burrowing animals like squirrels and groundhogs.
But if the prey is a fast runner, it easily outguns the slow moving badger.
And if the prey dives into a hole in the ground, the coyote hasn't got the tools to go after it.
So somewhere along the line, the coyote winked at the badger and they went into business together.
Not only do coyotes and badgers find food as a team, but coyote/badger hit squads find a third more prey than a coyote hunting alone.
The collaboration is so successful that you're far more likely to find coyotes hunting alongside badgers than coyotes hunting with other coyotes.
It's simply an unlikely partnership that works.
The world of marketing has its own unlikely partnerships.
Sometimes two completely unrelated companies realize they have mutual goals.
By pooling their resources and, more importantly, by leveraging each other's strengths, they team up to achieve much more than they could have achieved alone. And what they create together is highly unusual and unique.
Because sometimes, odd couples click…
When season 4 of the TV series Entourage ended, it went off the air for an entire year.
That kind of lengthy hiatus can be damaging to an ongoing show, as viewers drift off or disconnect.
HBO, the network behind Entourage, needed a dramatic way to generate excitement around the launch of Season 5.
So HBO came up with an interesting idea.
Instead of doing the usual advance screening at a theatre, why not screen the premiere episode for the press - on an airplane.
When the HBO marketing folks were considering which airline to approach, they asked themselves one question:
What airline would the characters from Entourage probably choose?
The answer… was Virgin.
When HBO approached Virgin with the idea, the airline was all ears because it had an announcement of its own to make.
Virgin America was launching a new route from New York to Las Vegas.
These unlikely partners actually had a lot in common.
Entourage's viewing audience was primarily young, tech-savvy business people.
Virgin America's customers were primarily young, tech-savvy business-people. The airline is California-based, so a large portion of its customers came from Silicon Valley.
Entourage was launching a new season. Virgin was launching a new route.
And both brands needed to generate big news around their respective announcements.
With mutual goals aligned, a partnership was created.
First, a Virgin jet was co-branded "Entourage Air."
To mark the inaugural flight, a swanky press party was held in a hangar at JFK airport in New York.
The press was greeted with a red carpet that led to the jet. The cast of Entourage and Sir Richard Branson were on hand to crack open the champagne.
There were photo opportunities and a Q&A with the celebs.
Then everyone got onboard for the flight to Vegas.
Midway through the flight, an advance screening of Entourage's Season Five premiere was shown.
When "Entourage Air" landed in Vegas, the passengers were greeted with more champagne, then proceeded to a private party at the Playboy Club.
18 hours later, the press was flown back to New York so they could file their stories.
The result: Over $3 million in media impressions. In other words, the press generated stories about the new Virgin route and the Entourage Season Five premiere that would have cost over $3 million in equivalent advertising space.
This was an important launch for Virgin America because it was a new and smaller airline. It didn't have a big marketing budget like its competitors.
Therefore, Virgin relies on buzz-worthy events that earn the airline valuable press stories, and it tries to create unusual experiences for its customers so those customers will spread the word via social media.
In the end, this was a win-win collaboration.
Virgin America got to launch its New York to Las Vegas route with a splash.
And HBO got to launch Season Five of Entourage without really having to spend a dime – all they had to do was supply the advance screening and the cast.
Not only that, the collaboration marked the beginning of an ongoing revenue-sharing arrangement, allowing Virgin to boast it had HBO content on its in-flight entertainment system.
Another big win for both brands.
There is an age-old saying that holds true.
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
Brand partnerships can be exactly that. Often, if both companies share the same goals, they can produce more desirable results together than they could with a solo effort.
Opening up a new flight route isn't exactly riveting news. And launching the fifth season of an existing TV show isn't earth-shattering either.
But combining them both on a flight to Las Vegas got big press attention.
It allowed both brands to do more with less.
While some marketing collaborations are unlikely combinations - like a cable channel and an airline - some partnerships are surprising because it hasn't happened sooner.
Take the partnership between KLM Airlines and Airbnb, for example.
KLM and Airbnb felt their brands had mutual goals.
Both share a passion for offering customers an inspiring travel experience.
And - after flights - most passengers need accommodations.
Even though it sounds like a blinding flash of the obvious - KLM was the first airline to partner with Airbnb.
When it got together with Airbnb, the two brands decided to launch their new partnership in an unforgettable way.
To do that, they converted a huge MD-11 jet into an apartment.
It was decked out with two huge bedrooms, one giant living room, eight bathrooms, a hot tub and 116 windows.
The jet was listed on Airbnb as a spacious "Airplane Apartment."
Then a contest was staged where three lucky winners would each get one night's accommodation on the jet.
Contestants had to say – in 100 words or less – why they deserved to win.
The contest attracted over 320,000 views, 10,000 booking requests and over 3 million video views.
Which means the contest had reached over 12 million people.
The three lucky winners were read an amusing list of rules before entering the plane:
Don't use the emergency inflatable slide.
No marshmallow roasting with the jet engines.
Please water the plants and feed the fish.
And please treat our plane like you'd treat your own plane.
Unlike "limited-edition" products that are only available for a short period of time, smart marketing partnerships are usually long term. The agreement between KLM and Airbnb is designed for the long haul.
Airbnb listings are on KLM's website.
KLM passengers can book their Airbnb accommodations through the website as they book their flights.
Airbnb also got brand presence in KLM's Travel Guide, showcasing over 600 destinations.
And for its part, KLM is seen as a hip airline, offering their passengers a unique travel experience for the 21st century.
You could say KLM put the "air" in Airbnb.
Which reminds me of another unlikely partnership where the air was scented…
Question: Can you imagine a collaboration between a car maker and a cosmetics firm?
What would that look like – or smell like?
Well, Biotherm, the skin care brand of parent company L'Oreal, teamed up with automotive giant Renault in Europe.
Renault was launching a new 100% electric car called the Zoe Z.E.
There was intense competition in Europe between car manufacturers to create an efficient, desirable zero-emission car. Accent on "desirable."
So the 110-year old Renault tapped Biotherm's 60 years of skin experience and asked the cosmetic company to design a state-of-the-art climate control system that replenished its driver.
In other words, to create a "spa" car.
Renault wanted to differentiate its vehicle in a very busy category, and it wanted to attract female car buyers.
Biotherm answered the call, creating an in-car spa-like experience.
To begin with, conventional air conditioning can have a dehydrating effect on skin during long journeys. But Zoe's smart climate control automatically adjusted the humidity level inside the car to optimize skin hydration.
Second, a toxicity sensor monitored air quality and automatically closed air vents if you found yourself behind a bus belching diesel fumes. A filter trapped harmful substances so cabin air stayed fresh at all times.
Then there was aromatherapy.
The climate system electronically released different essential oil scents into the car, depending on the time of day. For example, there were rousing scents for the morning drive into work, calming scents for the drive home, and stimulating scents to keep drivers alert at night.
Then there was light therapy. The central control screen exuded a light that stimulated the occupant's energy levels, enhancing the driver's well-being.
And lastly, there was audio ambiance. Music was selected in conjunction with a music consulting company to harmonize the audio to the relaxing experience inside the car, utilizing different music for different times of the day.
With all that, Renault's electric Zoe hit the showrooms in 2013 and was an instant hit with female drivers.
With a "Save the planet and your skin" theme, Zoe's sales increased 40% by 2016.
And throughout Renault's marketing, Biotherm was positioned as the most authoritative skincare company in the world.
By taking a chance with an unusual partner, both companies stood out from all their competitors.
There was another unlikely partnership in the auto world not long ago.
Hyundai teamed up with Prada.
One brand a budget-priced vehicle, the other a high-priced luxury item.
Hyundai was looking for a way to distinguish its top-of-the-line Genesis model. The automaker was only manufacturing 1,200 of these cars, but wanted to leapfrog into the luxury market in car buyer's minds.
Prada was the answer.
The door handles on the Genesis were modelled after Prada's purse buckles, and the haute couture's famous "saffiano" leather was used on the dash and seats. Prada's logo was featured on the quarter panels and doorsills.
The car was to be sold mostly in South Korea and sported an $80,000 price tag.
But it was the unlikely collision of Hyundai and Prada that did double duty – Prada gave Hyundai an exclusive pass into the luxury category, and the co-branding generated a lot of press for Prada.
There's a hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, that greets you at the front desk with a lick and a wet nose.
Don't be alarmed. It's not the staff, it's a dog.
The Aloft Hotel there partnered with an organization called Charlie's Angels Animal Rescue.
Even though a hotel and an animal shelter operation is an unlikely couple, they came up with a terrific idea to find homes for dogs.
It goes like this:
Charlie's Angels brings the hotel one dog at a time. It is kept at the front desk area.
Guests get to see the dogs often during their visit whenever they walk through the lobby, where they can bond with the dogs, play with them, and even take them for walks on the hotel property.
The response was tremendous.
In the first year alone, over 50 dogs were adopted – which was almost one per week.
Several were adopted within the first hour of their stays.
Once a guest wants to adopt a dog, Charlie's Angels pre-screens with background checks, gets personal references and arranges for home visits.
If everything checks out, the dog has found a new home.
The idea started out as a three-month program, but by the end of the third month, 12 dogs had been adopted.
The program was too good to stop, so the hotel continued with it.
The hotel staff loves the dogs, and they all take turns walking and feeding them.
Some staff have even adopted the dogs themselves.
Guests love it, too. First, it's a real conversation starter at check-in. And the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The Aloft Hotel dog program gets glowing reviews on guest feedback forms, on social media and on its Trip Advisor reviews.
What began as an unlikely partnership has turned into a powerful collaboration.
Charlie's Angels is a small organization that has received the kind of publicity it could never have achieved alone.
The Aloft Hotel has received national publicity and waves of good will from guests – many of which stay at the hotel because of the program.
And most importantly, it has saved dogs and found them loving homes.
For every dog the hotel takes, another space opens up at Charlie's Angels – so two dogs are helped every time.
It's a win, win…
Want some ketchup with your Coke?
Back in 2009, Coca Cola wanted to begin replacing its plastic bottles with a plant-based bottle.
Through research and experimentation, it created "PlantBottle" – a bottle that replaced 30% of the plastic with a plant-based alternative. It looked, felt and functioned like traditional plastic – except was a fully recyclable and renewable product made with a technology that converts the natural sugars found in plants into ingredients for making bottles.
But Coke had an even bigger goal in mind.
It wanted to change the entire global packaging supply chain in the food and beverage industry.
In order to do that, it decided to form a partnership because collaboration would bring more research and funding power to the table.
So Coke partnered with Heinz.
Heinz was excited about the idea, because it had its own sustainability goals to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste, water and energy consumption by 2015.
So Heinz began using Coke's patented PlantBottle technology in its 20-ounce ketchup bottles worldwide.
When the deal was announced, Coke stated they were doubling PlantBottle packages to 5 billion that very year, and Heinz committed to putting 120 million PlantBottle packages into the market in its first year.
It was the biggest change to the iconic Heinz ketchup bottle since it first introduced plastic bottles back in 1983.
By 2010 – just one year later - the Imperial College in London estimated that Plantbottle eliminated the equivalent of 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide or approximately 60,000 barrels of oil.
The Coke/Heinz partnership was an industry first. Both companies hoped to inspire other companies to transform how their products are packaged around the world.
No long after, Ford, Nike and P&G joined Coke and Heinz to form a plant technology collaborative – to accelerate the development and use of 100% plant-based materials in their products by sharing research and funding.
In 2015, Coke unveiled a 100% plant-based bottle at the World Expo in Milan – years ahead of schedule.
As the President of Heinz said, no one company can go it alone. Collaboration was essential.
He also added that, "Maybe one day, people will be able to drink a Coke then eat the bottle – with a little ketchup!"
In the world of unlikely partnerships, LEGO and NASA certainly qualify.
But both brands discovered they had mutual goals.
LEGO wants to inspire children to think creatively and systematically to release their potential.
NASA wants to harness that creativity to groom the next generation of space scientists and engineers.
So one day in 2010, NASA shook hands with LEGO, and a fruitful partnership began.
To christen the beginning of the collaboration, NASA put a small LEGO Shuttle toy onboard Discovery's November 2010 mission.
At the same time, LEGO was able to use NASA branding on their space products. It released four kits based on NASA spacecraft and missions.
Together with the space agency, LEGO created a special website with plenty of games, videos and facts about space exploration.
But the first real project began during the final mission of the space shuttle Endeavour.
Thirteen LEGO sets were sent to the International Space Station, and astronauts were filmed assembling the sets in weightless conditions. Those videos were then downloaded to Earth for use in classrooms, where students could build the same models – and then compare them with LEGOs assembled while floating in orbit.
The unlikely partnership was a huge success, and the original 3-year agreement has been extended indefinitely.
In 2013, the two organizations launched an "Imagine and Build" contest to design and build a future NASA spacecraft using LEGO.
There was also a "Future of Flight" contest for older fans, where they could submit spacecraft plans accompanied by a paper explaining how the design built upon NASA's existing ideas.
LEGO judged the entries for creativity.
NASA judged how the ideas would perform in space.
Winners of the contest won a LEGO trophy and NASA memorabilia – along with the opportunity to present their ideas to LEGO and aeronautics specialists – which included one astronaut judge.
It was a huge win-win for both LEGO and NASA.
LEGO got to officially harness the excitement of the space program in their products, and NASA was able to conduct public outreach aimed at increasing participation in science and engineering.
It contained a more profound impact for NASA, as well. As it learned with the Apollo moon landing in the 60s, expensive missions to outer space will only continue if the public supports the space industry.
And what better time to entrance a heart than when its young.
It looks like the sky is the limit for this partnership.
Or maybe the sky is just the beginning.
If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.
It's amazing what mutual goals can accomplish in the world of business.
The secret sauce to all the stories today was the fact the partnerships were between odd couples.
The chemical combustion of seemingly improbable partners can generate a lot of horsepower.
Who would ever think a cosmetics company would collaborate with a car maker? Or that a hotel would partner with an animal rescue organization?
Who thought Hyundai could even get a meeting with Prada? At first glance, the brands are the North and South poles of marketing – yet that strange pairing caught the attention of press and car buyers alike.
Alchemy aside, there is another powerful element to joining forces. As Coke and Ketchup showed,
pooling resources, funding and expertise can result in advances arriving years ahead of schedule.
It was a lesson not lost on LEGO and NASA.
Because when companies team up with the right partner, the result is like rocket fuel…
…when you're under the influence.