When brand partnerships work—and when they don't

When brand partnerships work—and when they don't

Getting it right at Wimbledon

Picture this.

It is early July; Wimbledon is in full swing and there is a soft summer breeze. You are enjoying the sweet combination of strawberries and cream and a glass of Pimm’s. Now try to picture it without the treats and tipple.

Every year, an estimated 191,000 portions are eaten, accompanied by more than 276,000 glasses of the liqueur. Wimbledon simply would not be the same without them.

It might come as a surprise, therefore, that Pimm’s has only been the official partner of Wimbledon since 2017. In reality, Pimm’s and Wimbledon go way back to 1971 when the very first Pimm’s bar appeared at the tournament. Having established itself as a quintessentially British summer drink is what makes it such a good fit with a uniquely British event like Wimbledon.

Alongside Wimbledon, Pimm’s is one of the staple drinks at the Chelsea Flower Show, the Henley Royal Regatta, and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera too - all of which are also long-established events on the British summer calendar. Capitalising on the product’s synonymity with summer, the Pimm’s marketing team have cemented this brand association with clever catchphrases such as “Pimm’s O’clock” and “Anyone for Pimm’s”.

Clearly, this strategy has proven a success, both in creating audience association and driving sales.

Platinum Jubilee celebrations saw sales shoot up 97%, such was the desire to have a glass of Pimm’s in hand to toast a key landmark in British history. Pimm’s even launched a ‘King’s’ edition of the bottle when King Charles’ Coronation Bank Holiday commenced.

Getting it wrong at Wimbledon

Pimm’s consistent brand-building over a long time and focus on its audience consumption is the success story of Wimbledon partnerships. What does not work is when commercial greed overtakes that key aspect of audience-first branding—the audience.

Robinsons is a prime example of this. The drinks brand ended its partnership of 86 years with Wimbledon with rumours that its owner, Britvic, wanted to include more of its drinks brands in the partnership, such as Gatorade, Pepsi MAX and J20. These simply do not have the same audience and values synergy with the tournament—and the undisguised commercialism was at odds with Wimbledon’s reserved appeal.

We can draw a clear lesson from this. 

Brand partnerships must begin with the audience and product relevance at their centre, along with a common understanding of values and experiences. Gatorade just did not fit. Pimm’s does. And as we have seen, that is no accident.

Red Bull’s adrenaline wings

Pimm’s and Red Bull are vastly different brands but they do share common ground when it comes to aligning with sporting events. 

Dominating the F1 world with its huge team ownership, Red Bull’s focus on high-energy, high-octane activity and behaviour perfectly encapsulates the nature of its energy drink. 

This tactic has been successful in firmly establishing the brand as the drink of daredevils.

Owning Christmas

Becoming part of a tradition requires relentless, repetitive effort—especially when the fit is less obvious.

Coca-Cola and Christmas is a perfect example of this. The brand has been repeating the “The Holidays Are Coming” message since 1931 and the iconic red truck TV ad has been on screens every Christmas for 27 years—and it has worked. We all get excited when the annual ad comes on, with many claiming it symbolises the ‘true start’ of the Christmas period.

Dubbed the modern equivalent of sweet clementines in Christmas stockings, Terry’s Chocolate Orange is another example of a brand that has successfully tied itself to the festive season. Aside from the ‘orange’ parallel, it’s not entirely clear why they are so synonymous with Christmas. Is it because the shape is a good stocking filler? Because the product is designed to be shared?

Whether those ring true or not, its marketing is heaviest at Christmas so, by consistently participating in this season over decades, the brand has created a link in the minds of its audience strong enough to become tradition.

When brand alignment doesn’t, well, align.

What happens when you combine a sensitive cultural moment, an influencer and a bottle of pop? Swift and severe criticism.

Kendall Jenner’s 2017 Pepsi ad is a perfect example of why cultural associations must be considered carefully. In the ad, Kendall Jenner offers a can of Pepsi to a police officer during a protest to ease tensions between protestors and law enforcement. Not only was Pepsi not culturally relevant, neither was Kendall Jenner, who had never done any social activism, but most importantly, it dealt insensitively with highly prominent social issues relating to activism and the Black Lives Matter movement.

A brand must earn the right to fit in with a cultural moment or mood. It takes more than just one ad campaign to make a cultural and societal message align with a brand. Just because you can, does not mean you should. Consumers are quick to call out brands which jump on an issue or movement for commercial gain. The huge social media backlash Pepsi and Kendall Jenner received following this campaign demonstrates just this.

In conclusion

Aligning a brand with key moments in audiences’ lives can be extremely powerful if it is successful. But it is a long game that must be steeped in deep and meaningful connection if it’s to stand the test of time.

Lead image credit: iStock/coldsnowstorm

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