Another installment from industry insider and all round insightful fellow Bob Sheard of Creative agency FreshBritain. Here he looks at how collaborations come into play as brands look to keep themselves relevant and appeal to new audiences.
At the moment collaborations are a default position for brands that have nothing to say or have no innovative design aspects of their own. The problem you have is when so many people or brands apply the same tactic it becomes an industry standard to have to do it. It perpetuates itself. It used to be special, it used to be interesting and unexpected.
Around 1996, I remember seeing a Nike Waffle Racer with an Adidas Superstar ‘shell toe’ tongue (obviously an unofficial ‘cut and shut’ hybrid) but it was genuinely exciting. The issue for collaborations that don’t work is when you have two positives. With collaborations, two positives equal a negative. For collaborations to work successfully you need an opposing factor. Usually the trade-off is a brand that is big with commercial success and volume and a small brand that has credibility. The small brand offers its credibility whilst the big brand lends its volume and you get a successful commercial collaboration.
The problem is when you get two big brands that collaborate or two little brands that collaborate, neither makes sense. Neither works commercially or credibly. And it really doesn’t make sense for PR value either. What’s the point?
As a business you should never do a collaboration without a commercial pay-off. In my opinion, the key reasons for collaborative projects are if the coming together of two brands creates a unique entrée into product design or if you can incubate onto another brand’s distribution channel. The reason why we buy brands in the first place is because they are experts at what they do and there is a purity to it. More and more, the consumers are interested in the best that a brand can be rather than the best that a brand can be with a super imposition from a different brand.
For example, we realised with Dr Martens that many of the consumers that we were targeting didn’t shop in the stores that Dr Martens was sold in. Those consumers went to sneaker stores so the challenge was, ‘How do we get DMs into sneakers stores?’ To do that you have to create opinion-leading product that is sold in the correct stores around that world. At that time the stores were Foot Patrol in London, Union in New York, Undefeated in LA, Chapter in Tokyo and so on. Once the product is in those key retailers, how can we do a ‘take down’ of that product to get it into the regular sneaker stores – Size, Office etc.
We were able to set up, with the help of friends, a collaboration with Stussy Deluxe. It was interesting as we had two very different iconic brands – what does the bastard child of Stussy and Dr Martens look like? What we ended up with was a product that was very lightweight, very sneaker driven and was one of the first Dr Martens products that you could buy in a sneaker store. It worked because it enabled Dr Martens to get into different channels of distribution.
Another challenge was to position Dr Martens into top tier boutiques such as Colette, Dover Street Market and Corso Como – we knew this would be difficult. So we set up, again with the help of friends, a collaboration with Raf Simons who created a very pointed silhouette. This incubated the brand into Raf’s distribution channels, it gave the brand a higher platform from which we could then do take-down versions of that shoe into the normal distribution – so versions of the pointed shoe appeared in different tiered accounts.
My advice to brands at BBB this month is to make sure that you have a proper rationale behind your collaborations. It’s the deal with the devil – the big brand attains a little credibility and the small brand gains more mass. It is the Faustian pact that makes it interesting.