Why is this interesting? - The Collab Edition

On collab culture, fast food, and brand marketing

Colin here. Celebrity endorsements are an age-old marketing tactic. By associating a superstar name to a product, more monetary and cultural value can be created. Air Jordan took the athleticism and talent of Michael Jordan and forever intertwined it with Nike and their line of sneakers. In addition to the aesthetics and cool factor, there was the implicit promise that you could play better, jump higher, and level up. 

This is, of course, one of the most successful brand/athlete relationships of all time. Not every celebrity endorsement deal worked out this way. In its long read on the saga of Nespresso, the Guardian reports on the assertion that the Clooney effect did more for the celebrity than the product. “It was a major mistake,” Jean-Paul Gaillard, Nespresso’s former CEO, told The Guardian. “When you select one person to do your branding, you put two stars on the screen – the product and the person. Thanks to Nespresso’s budget, Clooney became better known in Europe: he vampirized the brand.”

Marketers are always trying to figure out how to translate cultural energy into a product, and so-called “collab” culture has gone from super highbrow—think Comme Des Garcons/Dover Street Market—to undoubtedly mainstream—Old Navy x anyone. But recently, there’s been some new examples of pushing collaboration culture even further into commodity products: notably coffee and burgers. 

Why is this interesting?

The first example is the recent collaboration between Charli D'Amelio, a dancer and Tik Tok sensation with nearly 90 million followers. While no shortage of companies would like to channel white-hot Gen Z stars, it was the household and commuter favorite, Dunkin’ Donuts that came out with “The Charli” based on her recurring order at the donut chain: “a cold brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl.” 

The collaboration is working: their VP of Brand recently cited “a record for daily users on its app the day ‘The Charli’ launched, thanks to a 57% increase in app downloads, and within 5 days the coffee giant sold hundreds of thousands of Charli's signature drink.” And, not surprisingly, the brand is a regular fixture on Charli’s TikTok posts. 

Collabs have come a long way. It used to be high concept, and labor-intensive. The collaborations between Kanye and Adidas arguably forever changed the brand and its fans. But this new wave doesn’t require new and expensive R&D. It is just linking the cultural energy of a figure into something they order and enjoy. And something that is accessible to people: a daily ritual instead of a costly splurge. 

It is also becoming a money making trend. McDonald's recently partnered with musician Travis Scott for a limited time partnership. It was nothing more than a typical Mcdonald's order: The Travis Scott Meal comprises a Quarter Pounder with Cheese with bacon and lettuce, french fries with barbecue sauce, and a large Sprite (extra ice). 

Jon Caramanica from the Times explains the allure of the deal:

...each gets something from the other. For Scott, it’s the scale of the flex — a partnership with a brand the magnitude of McDonald’s is essentially unheard-of. (What’s next: Walmart? Berkshire Hathaway?) It’s a way to slip his aesthetics into the global mainstream through ads and products, and also something that doesn’t exist in music anymore: physical distribution locations. (There are over 13,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States.)

In exchange, McDonald’s gets some refracted cool and the satisfaction of knowing that thousands of young people might find their way — through the co-branded merchandise — into becoming walking billboards, especially crucial given that while McDonald’s remains among the most valuable fast-food restaurant brands on the planet, with total global revenue of around $21 billion each of the last two years, it’s still a business in overall decline, from a high of $28 billion in 2013. Partnering with Scott is a way to advertise to young people without all the burdens and potential misfires of actually advertising to young people.

This last part is the most salient one: it allows McDonald's to tap into the energy, without having to try and squeeze a snappy Gen Z campaign out of their agency. Because that is a very hard needle to thread. And for a generation that is allergic to traditional messaging, the Scott route seems both more fruitful and less risky. 

Like Dunkin’ x Charli, Scott appears to be hitting the bottom line for McDonalds. . The collaboration created quite a stir on its launch in Downey, CA, and has also reportedly led to a Quarter Pounder shortage. 

Now obviously a lot of this is hype, ginned by brands, superfans, and sophisticated methods of distribution. But the lasting trend is to see how more everyday things might be supercharged by new celebrity or platform influencer endorsements. And in this case, it seems like the more ordinary and mundane, the more funny (and potentially useful) the alignment can be. (CJN)

Remembrance of the Day: 

The world lost an incredibly influential writer, reporter, and editor. According to the AP: “Sir Harold Evans, the charismatic publisher, author and muckraker who brought investigative moxie to the British press, newsmaking dash to the American book business through best-sellers like ‘Primary Colors’ and synergetic buzz to all as author-publisher Tina Brown’s husband, has died.” In addition to a storied and important career in journalism, he wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read on writing: “Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters.  “I wrote the book because I thought I had to speak up for clarity,” he told The Daily Beast at the time. “When I go into a cafe in the morning for breakfast and I’m reading the paper, I’m editing. I can’t help it. I can’t stop. I still go through the paper and mark it up as I read it.”

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

PS - Noah here. My company, Variance, is looking for a lead product designer (remote) to join the team. If that’s you or someone you know, please be in touch.

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