Who Is In Your Sandbox?

In my latest post for Advertising Week (new site, check it out!), I have a look at why brands should play nice with each other. Won’t you have a read?

Original post here or read it below.

In the ever competitive world of brand domination, it’s easy to get lost in the climb to the top. We want so badly to stand out that we forget standing next to someone can make for great conversation. And while we the people may be able to trudge through knowing we’re going home to a less competitive environment (assuming you tapped out of the procreation game after the first born), brands are less fortunate.

Brands have to stand up high, shouting for the crowd’s attention and kicking sand in eyes of anyone who gets too close. They’re just told “it’s lonely at the top”.

It’s as though success is somehow synonymous with solitude.

But does it really have to be that way? It used to be that plays well with others was a pretty decent note on the report card. In fact, parents might have been a little saddened to see the absence of those four words on their child’s evaluation, because back in the sandbox days your success was highly dependent on your ability to play nice.

The same principle should hold true with brands. And not just because the world is a little better when we all get along, but because it can also be of great benefit to everyone included. Like peanut butter and jam, the right pairing can be magical.

Sure, we see a number of sponsorships that pair up strong brands, but they aren’t really playing together so much as just standing around waiting for the bell to ring. Those NASCAR brands might be in it just as much for the front row seat as they are to support the driver, and we’ll never know which. They’ve dropped the logo on the hood, they’ve done their job. What’s really interesting are the brands that play together and create a partnership that is greater than the sum of its parts.

By identifying some shared audience, they can leverage each other’s assets to create a stronger appeal.

In recent memory, there have been a few brands who have done a nice job of bringing together two entities that may not seem as natural a pair as pb&j, but that have created something equally symbiotic.

Kiki de Montparnasse and Auchentoshan

Lingerie and single malt scotch whisky don’t exactly seem like two things you’d see together. One might expect to see the former with champagne or wine, even ultra premium vodka, but whisky was the winner. And after taking it all in, it made ample sense.

Kiki de Montparnasse, a luxury lingerie line, was hosting a soiree at its Soho boutique; a relationship seminar of sorts. Guests mingled and chatted, perused the racks of beautifully made lingerie and dropped the weight of the day from their shoulders. Before long, the men were sent upstairs while the woman remained below.

The women chatted about the ups and downs of relationships, while the men partook in a whisky tasting hosted by Scottish distillery Auchentoshan. Both, activities that are generally well accepted by the parties involved.

But then came time to switch: the men would chat about their feelings, while the ladies would sip hard liquor.

Thanks to each other’s assets, the brands could still benefit from these unlikely audiences. Men had been loosened up with a little libation so were more open to discuss the topic at hand, while the women had had the chance to discuss some touchy issues and were ready to take in a drink.

By teaming up, these two brands easily found audiences that may have otherwise been difficult to bring in on their own. A category that is targeted to women got to enjoy a captive male audience, while an idealised male drink had the opportunity to speak to the fairer sex.

The night left both the men and women feeling as though they had been catered to, and as they stepped out into the crisp night air, each silently added a couple items to their household’s wish list.

Greta Constantine and Audi

Thanks to NYFW’s title sponsor, fashion and automotive is a generally accepted pairing. It makes sense, for as long as there have been car ads there have been pretty, stylish people in them. So while the matching of categories may not be new, the manner in which the two come together can be quite ingenious.

Luxury ready-to-wear label Greta Constantine puts on some of Toronto’s most highly anticipated fashion shows, bringing together beautiful people and beautiful gowns; it’s a must-see show. For the Fall 2011 presentation, they’d be including long-time sponsor Audi in the mix, bringing the party to their showroom.

The automaker’s luxe downtown Toronto dealership would be home to the night’s events. Guests were escorted downstairs past a few of the finest models (cars, that is) before being seated to see another set of fine models. Show complete, attendees stayed for the after party where a few cars could be found on the floor.

And how convenient indeed, if you’re going to talk about flawless design and innovative structure (CG standards), why not have a car in sight that shares the same values. It opens up the conversation to include more than the clothes, allowing an audience that may not stroll through dealerships with as much frequency as they do runway shows, the opportunity to see up close another form of design.

The combination meant that the car brand could show up-close its products to an audience that may otherwise have had no reason to visit their showroom. And the clothing label could happily remind their audience of the quality and craftsmanship standard they hold so dear.

By the end of the evening, you could practically see the thought bubble above everyone’s head as they envisioned themselves driving down a picture perfect winding road, seated in their shinny new car, decked in perfectly draped jersey.

And it’s that sense of desire in the consumer that we need to focus on.

As marketers, we need to remember that building brands isn’t necessarily about standing solo at the top. It’s about developing trust and partnerships along the way, and not letting yourself eat lunch alone in the corner every day. Your kids need to play well with friends to find success in the sandbox, and we need to do the same.

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