Trend Mill

How Brand Collabs Became a Fixture of the Marketing Playbook

From $90,000 Oreos to BTS McDonald’s meals, crossovers are more than just a hype-inducing stunt

Would you pay over $91,000 for a three-pack of Oreos?

Before you rush to answer “no!,” note that these are no ordinary Oreos. These are bright red, have the Supreme logo imprinted on them, and are very limited in quantity.

When the Supreme x Oreo crossover released on February 18, 2020, fans quickly ate up the offering, though not in the literal sense. These buyers were grabbing the limited-run three-pack for $8 and immediately turning to resell in a bid to make a quick buck. Sales were seen as high as $91,000 before seller sites like eBay pulled them.

‘X’ marks the spot

This was by no means the first successful crossover between two seemingly disconnected brands. Supreme is the undisputed king of the crossover, slapping its highly sought-after logo on almost every item in existence with continued success. It wasn’t even Oreo’s first dabble with collaborations — remember their Swedish Fish run? Of late, the most common crossover takes the form of food and drink companies teaming with fashion brands. A few of the highlights include:

  • In 2018, Sports brand Fila paired with Chupa Chups for a “capsule collaboration” inspired by the famous lollipop.
  • In 2019, Forever 21 and Cheetos joined forces to produce a range of products, including Flamin’ Hot tube dresses. The company had already dabbled in food crossovers, releasing a collaboration with Taco Bell in 2017.
  • In 2020, Crocs teamed up with KFC to produce what can only be described as an absolute monstrosity, which sold out in under 30 minutes.

Another popular avenue for crossovers involves brands mixing with celebrities and musicians, such as the Post Malone signature Crocs, which sold out in under two hours and revitalized the company. The next big play in this lane is the Yeezy x Gap, which has the so-called hypebeasts — those who are obsessed about the hype in fashion — licking their lips. The first product, a $200 unisex, electric blue puffer jacket, just dropped on June 9th. Other crossovers don’t involve two companies but instead one brand moving over into an entirely unrelated product lane. Shortly before Valentine’s Day 2020, Pepsi announced it was giving away a lab-grown diamond ring that contained real, boiled-down Crystal Pepsi, “tailor-made for unapologetic Pepsi fans that have a flair for romance and an unbridled passion for Pepsi.”

No matter who, what, or when, almost every run produces the same results: increased brand awareness, huge social media hype, and quick sellout. The fact that many of these products launched during a global pandemic and were still successful highlights just how powerful a marketing play crossovers have become. The market for the crossover is clearly insatiable, and one global juggernaut is about to bet its future brand strategy on collaboration.

McDonald’s x BTS

Following the success of its partnerships with J Balvin and Travis Scott, which boosted sales by 4.6% — and included the release of a chicken nugget pillow — McDonald’s has turned its attention to one of the world’s most popular groups, BTS, to launch its next “Famous Meal.”

The meals are part of its “Accelerating the Arches” brand strategy designed to turn McDonald’s customers into “super fans.” One of the main pillars of the strategy is to “invest in new, culturally relevant approaches.” What better way to keep McDonald’s culturally relevant than to partner with one of the biggest music groups with a truly global appeal? BTS has more than 48 million YouTube subscribers, 40 million Instagram followers, and about 30 million Twitter followers.

Last week, the crossover dropped in 12 countries, including the U.S. and Malaysia. (The other participating countries are expected to follow suit over the next few weeks.) Customers can now order the BTS meal: a 10-piece McNuggets, medium fries, medium Coke, and sweet chili and Cajun dipping sauces adapted from dips at McDonald’s South Korea. And much like every other crossover, it goes well beyond the meal. Several merchandise products are being released — everything from T-shirts to an umbrella — and exclusive digital content will roll out over the next few weeks on the McDonald’s app.

The hype, as expected, is palpable. In Malaysia, the meal sold out country-wide in less than a day. Packaging from the meal is already being resold, with some going for more than double their retail value. Others have been trying to wash their packaging so they can frame them.

Like the previous crossovers, the design work is produced in tandem with creative agency Wieden+Kennedy, who have long been encouraging McDonald’s to think bigger and bolder regarding their brand and partnerships. The starting point is always the same: Which celebrities love McDonald’s? From there, a rigorous vetting process begins to ensure the potential partners really do love the product. (The 10-piece chicken nugget meal is said to be BTS’s meal of choice.) From there, they try to appease both the McDonald’s brand values and the creative wishes of the partner. The strategy appears to be working, and looks set to be a major part of the company’s marketing direction.

Morgan Flatley, U.S. chief marketing officer at McDonald’s, is confident the company will continue to enjoy success with this approach. “The insight of, even the most famous people have their favorite order, is so wide open,” she said in an interview with Fast Company. “This has shown us this rabid fandom that exists… we just need to find creative, interesting, unexpected ways to unlock it.”

What next for the world of brand crossovers?

As with all trends, fatigue is never too far away as more and more brands attempt to get in on the action. To avoid crossover fatigue and continue to launch successful limited runs that capture the market, brands have two options: continue to think up increasingly ludicrous concepts or partner with the biggest names of the moment. The recent campaign from Weetabix and Heinz beans shows that going for the ridiculous can create a big stir, especially across social media. McDonald’s expected success from the BTS partnership proves that huge celebrity names can carry a crossover and allow companies to tap into global audiences. Getting caught somewhere in the middle won’t cut it anymore in a market inundated with collaboration. It’s go big or go home.

We are entering peak crossover mania. Expect to see lots more experimentation, fueled by ever-growing social media hype and the constant battle for eyes and relevance. The tipping point will come, but for now, if the collaboration allows brands to reinvigorate themselves, move into new markets, or tackle a cause close to their hearts, it seems nothing is off limits. Not even KFC Crocs.

Updated June 9th after Yeezy x GAP announced its first product.

Editor-in-Chief of Post-Grad Survival Guide • Columnist in Marker • Thoughts on business, ideas, writing & more

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