Rich Clark Marketing

Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals

Image from Balmain x H&M campaign


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Defining a good Collaboration

Brands through the years have been jostling for position as the leader in their category. Some have done this through innovation in product design. Some have focussed on providing excellent customer service and others on generating a go to brand.  There are many other ways brands have attempted to be top dog, however a common method is by creating collaborations.

Collaborations can take various forms an can centre on partnerships between brands and individuals, brands and various bodies and of course brands with other brands.  Collaborations are not mere marketing tactics, sponsorship and ads cannot be confused with collaborations. Collaborations, in their truest sense are when two parties work together to create something.  In fact to put it more succinctly below is the definition from Business Dictionary

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Fashion and sports industries have been at the heart of these collaborations for some time. However other brands such as tech companies and car marques have taken great strides in their collaborations.

So, what is the basis of a good collaboration?

  1. Objectives

Now stating objectives might seem obvious. But for me, this is crucial to ensure that everybody involved understands why you are doing the collaboration.  All stakeholders involved need to share the same goals and adhere to the same objectives.

The basis of all collaborations isn’t necessarily always down to a direct ROI and instant revenue from the product you create.

Shot of Charli XCX in her exclusive boohoo range

Charli XCX x boohoo

An example of this that I personally worked on was CharliXCX x boohoo. The basis behind this was to open boohoo up to the slightly edgier girl.  However, the primary objective was to help accelerate our launch in the US by achieving greater levels of press coverage.  The multi-collection collaboration did well in terms of sales, however, as a business this wasn’t our primary objective.  We answered the questions in relation to our investment by achieving press coverage of a much greater value than the monetary investment placed by boohoo.  The coverage we got in fashion and lifestyle publications and websites in the US such as Access Hollywood and Yahoo Celebrity would have been close to impossible with a standard fashion message.

2. Credibility

This is a tricky angle for a brand to tackle.  How can you use a collaboration to make your brand more credible and become accessible to a wider and critical audience?  Well Monster managed to crack this in one of the early celebrity/influencer collaborations when it partnered with “gangsta rapper” Dr Dre to create Monster Beats.  Monster created some good, but lets be honest, not great earwear but with the power of Dre behind it, the brand and hardware became instantly credible and sold in bucket loads.  Obviously we all know that this didn’t end particularly well and Dre and Monster split with Dre creating Beats by Dre which literally earned him a hood full of cash.

Picture of Dr Dre

Dre teamed up with Monster for his first Beats collection

 

3. Expertise

Sometimes there are specialist audiences or areas to target that are just to difficult to do on your own.  Nike are the kings of collaborations and their recent decision to tie-up with Muslin Athletes to create a Nike Hijab is inspired.  Not only does it open the brand up in a new way it also provides quality items with branding that was previously difficult to attain.  Obviously it is too early to decide if this is a commercial success, but the attention the collaboration has received has probably warranted the decision.

Image of woman in nike Hijab

Nike team up with Muslim athletes to create its own Nike Hijab

4. Commercial

When Nike first teamed up with NBA legend Michael Jordan, it was largely to gain a foothold in the streetwear market.  Yes, it was a collaboration that used Jordan‘s athletic prowess to produce footwear that aided athletic performance. However, Jordan was so synonymous with America’s urban black culture at the time, that the main benefit was to create quality AthLeisure.  The solid product placement in Spike Lee‘s film Do The Right Thing really cemented its place in Hip Hop and Urban culture.

Air Jordan logo

Nike Air Jordan one of the finest collaborations of the modern era

5. Creativity

When Land Rover wanted to make its baby Range Rover Evoque stand out they called on the fashion expertise of none other than Victoria Beckham. The Posh brand (Becks that is not Range Rover) is so popular across the globe, but never more so then China, Brazil and the Middle East all breakthrough markets at the time for the vehicle marque. Only a few hundred of Beckham’s Evoque’s went on sell, however the model became quickly known as the car Victoria Beckham designed.  There are many other examples of vehicle manufacturers teaming up with designers to ensure creativity comes to the fore.

Victoria Beckham and Range Rover Evoque

Victoria Beckham and the Range Rover Evoque she designed

6. Stature

When a high street brand wants to attract a more affluent customer or help its core customers buy up by feeling part of something bigger, what do they do?  Well team up with a major designer of course.

This goes on in fashion on a pretty frequent basis and one of the best examples is Balmain x H&M.  The collaboration saw prestige designer Balmain create a capsule range for the global high street fashion retailer.  Obviously, H&M isn’t budget anyway, so it wasn’t a huge stretch, but the difference between brands was still marked.  The success of the collaboration was unprecedented with the whole collection selling out, queues around the block in major cities across the globe including fashion capitals New York and London and items selling on eBay for pretty much close to the price tag of core Balmain items.

Image from Balmain x H&M campaign

Balmain x H&M was a successful collaboration

 

 

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Impact of Urban Culture on Sports Brands

Once upon a time, a long time ago – people lived nice comfortable middle class lives.  They listened to their lovely music which the whole family enjoyed.  However this changed in the late 70s early 80s when a new culture began to impact on lives.  Initially this was underground culture in the US.  However as it grew bigger in the US and grew from underground to niche it began to migrate to the UK, becoming huge in the 90s.

After reading that opening paragraph you might be wondering what the hell I am talking about.  Well let me explain.

At last the youth of this era had something they could relate to that wasn’t ageing long haired rockers, thrashing their guitars and screaming like banshees.  This was the emergence of urban culture.  The most noted rise at this point was actually in Hop Hop culture with b-boys, breakdancers and of course Hip Hop (Rap) music.  At the same time though was another strand including House.

The main impact happenned when Grandmaster Flash released the seminal piece of Whitelines, noted for its mesmoric tune and catchy chorus this track took to the airwaves.  Granted some radio DJs and music commentators took their time to link to the obvious link to drugs, and maybe that’s the reason for its success.  But this was the start.

The culture wasn’t limited to the music, along with the music came the dance.  Along with the dance came the clothing.  Along with the clothing came a new attitude.  An attitude of change and challenge.  This new urban culture was all about bucking the trend.  This was something adopted very early by youths in the UK, particularly and perhaps understandably by youths of an Afro-Carribean descent.  It gave them a powerful voice, that demanded to be listened to.  Of course it touched and impacted people from all different types of backgrounds.

The culture has evolved a lot through the years and has touched many areas, including film, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing was a chilling tell of life in New York at the time.  This sparked a whole genre of films which created new directors and became more challenging Boys In The Hood and New Jack City.  It also created a brand of humour through the likes of House Party and White Men Can’t Jump.

It wasn’t just Hollywood that was challenged.  Spike Lee appeared in a memorable ad for Nike which transformed the brand from very White Middle Class athletic wear to edgy fashion items.  This was carried on by Nike owning the basketball space with launching  Nike Air Jordan in 1984.  More recently areas such as street tournaments have taken off, which really focusses on bring sport to the real street level.

I caught up with Ortis Deley, presenter on Channel 5s Gadget Show and he summed it up really well for me  “I think the two have become synergistic.  I can’t imagine one without the other.  The eighties have a lot to answer for.”  The 80s for me was the real initial link, back to Public Enemy and Troop.

But why did urban culture adopt sportswear? And importantly what does it actually mean?

Why was sportswear adopted in urban culture?

There is no 100% certain answer to this.  When the adoption first happenned the figures ‘on the streets’ were generally young men.  They played sport both seriously and as a hobby.  As sportswear brands such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas took the lead from niche players such as Troop they developed the styles and fashion of their product.  Increasingly changing ranges meant youths wanted to gain bragging rights by owning the latest trainer.

Technology was increasing as well.  Cushioned platforms in the trainer (that were the preserve of the expensive running shoe) were being put in more trainers, most famously in Nike Air trainers and later with Reebok’s Pump trainers.  Purely and simply this made them the most comfortable footwear around.  Ideal for kicking about “on the street”.

Perhaps the biggest influence however was when Nike got Spike Lee the symbolic figure in urban culture endorsing their brand.  The advert and strong endorsement was seen as a massive step forward, adding the fact that the products appeared by name in the firs t massive hit from Spike Lee “Do the Right Thing” meant that the link was cemented.  All Nike had to do was claim the link between culture and its range and the job was done.

Nike (perhaps) more successfully than any of its rivals did more than that.  They adopted a massive link to possibly the “greatest athlete on earth” at the time Michael Jordan.  The man could do no wrong.  He won everything in his sport and due to his text book style to dunking he (and Nike) created a symbol.  This symbol and Jordan himself became the must have for any youth.

The film tie-ins continued with Nike again associated in one of the biggest ‘urban’ films of the 90s in White Men Can’t Jump’ the comedy that took the link further and actually made a movie about basketball, street culture and music. Making fun of the apparently ‘clutsy white men’ Woody Harrelson, pumping up his trainers, whilst the uber cool Wesley Snipes starred in is Nikes.

What does it actually mean?

Well sports brands that get the link become part of everyday life within street culture.  People often don’t say do you like my trainers, they say do you like my Nikes? Or my Reeboks?  The segement are willing to pay top money for the right product as a lot of the focus is on bragging rights and getting the latest and best.

If a brand can capture the audience, they can make them fiercely loyal.  I remember in my group of friends growing up, peers that would only buy Nike (even after Jordan had finished) – I myself bought a pair of the second generation Jordans when they were re-released.

The culture is very demading though.  Not only do the brands need to keep up its innovation to make the product better than its competitors it also needs to invest in its brands.  This investment needs to be in design and notably also in its endorsements.

Again, Nike is particularly good at this.  The influence of culture from the states has diminished slightly and the super-icons of the football world are now more prominent again.  Nike has the majority of key names in this field including the entire Brazil National Team and did a great job with the likes of Edgar Davids, Ronaldinho and currently Cristiano Ronaldo.  However, Adidas reacted in this space and have their own stable of stars including Lampard and Messi.

The connections have become so interlinked that in some people’s minds this the two have fused together.  I think this is best illustrated by the street tournaments that various brands have organised.  A great example is Usain Bolt racing through the streets courtesy of Puma.

The biggest positive to the whole relationship is that the brands have created genuine role models for people to aspire to.  The likes of Michael Jordan was a great positive example during a time when music was creating role models that parents didn’t want their children to aspire to. Nike has had a great reputation of this using the likes of Tiger Woods (although he managed to harm this), Kobe Bryant and now Puma with Usain Bolt

Whilst this is a lucrative market, because of its demanding nature it is as much about fashion as it is endorsement.

In short, if a brand can crack this area and maintain both its credibility and relevance it is on to a winner.  If it doesn’t it will have no place to play (where are Troop and Fila now?)