The secret to surprisingly relevant brand collisions

Carl Sarney
By Carl Sarney | 21 May 2024
Carl Sarney.

Carl Sarney, Head of Strategy at TRA

Recently, I stumbled across a brilliant, and surprisingly relevant campaign – WcDonald's– a brand collision between Maccas, anime and manga. WcDonalds is a fictional restaurant that has become popular in TV shows, graphic novels and video games for the past few decades. As part of the Maccas campaign, McDonald's rebranded itself to WcDonald's and created limited edition products for fans to enjoy.

While on the surface, this might seem like an odd pairing, it’s a strategically intentional move that serves to demonstrate Macca's deep understanding of their consumer fandoms. It’s a pattern I’ve noticed with particularly effective and buzz-worthy marketing recently. From K-pop biscuits (Oreo X BlackPink) to nerdy actors and skincare (Michael Cera X CeraVe), all types of brands are executing clever, relevant and timely partnerships. 

This year, Bunnings sparked excitement and conversation by partnering with the popular Kid's TV show Bluey and temporarily re-branding some stores to 'Hammerbarn', a shop that appears in season two of the series. Crocs is another brand doing ‘unusual’ brand partnerships well – a recent collaboration between Crocs and Justin Bieber's Drew House sold out in Australia in just thirty minutes.  

So, what’s the secret sauce to a successfully unusual brand collaboration? 

As the world gets noisier, brands need big ideas that start loud conversations across media channels. To get the conversation going, they need to be relevant and surprising, initiating unusual partnerships that will surprise and delight consumers. At the same time, brands need to foster a deep understanding of their audience interests – great partnerships are formed at intersections of subcultures and fandoms. 

Know culture

There’s power in harnessing cultural insight. Take a recent SNL sketch, what happens if the Saw Franchise combines with Luxe Activewear brand ALO? A horror pilates reformer class. On the surface it might seem like too much, but the 'cultish' rituals and behaviours that the wellness industry skirts close to have become a mainstream meme. Turn that up ten notches with the Saw franchise and it’s a cultural Venn diagram of audiences. Although this is a comedy sketch and not a strategic brand marketing move, it mimics the same elements of success as Maccas and Bunnings.

Add value

Another opportunity for brands is to foster partnerships that offer additional benefits to consumers, such as in the form of light entertainment or advice. One of the elements that made the Bunnings/Bluey collaboration so successful was that it made the store a free holiday destination for kids. One way to do this is by harnessing an expert or influencer outside a brand category. Think CeraVe's recent partnership with Michael Cera. It's surprising to see an actor known for awkward humour to be associated with beauty. Yet the actor's broad appeal and recent appearance in the Barbie movie start to reveal the intersections with CeraVe's broadly millennial and Gen Z audience.

Be authentic

The primary objective of this approach is to create a sense of fame and start a positive conversation with consumers. If the partnership screams advertising and marketing, it will appear inauthentic. Fame is an indirect sales driver, partnerships need to drive long-term brand boosts over short-term traffic. It’s all about encouraging the conversation to grow organically.

Ultimately, in an age of AI where people are looking for those surprisingly unexpected brand and product clashes, crossovers can be imagined by anyone. This gives marketers even more permission to play. And if brands don't? The internet might. 

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