Brand Partnership
June 22, 2023

Frenemies: How Competing Brands Collaborate for Mutual Benefit

Working with your competitors… is it a good idea? Recent studies and campaigns are suggesting the tides are changing, and it’s time to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

The age of “frenemies” may be infiltrating the marketing world.

We couldn't stop chatting in the office about the recent collaboration between footwear brands Allbirds and Adidas – we just loved it!

The two major competitors both put their best foot forward to work together on the creation of a shoe with the lowest carbon footprint. In their own words: “FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT shows what’s possible when competitors work together as collaborators—an ultralight running shoe that clocks in at just 2.94kg CO2 a pair”. How can you not be impressed?

Don’t be afraid to try something different.

Historically, competitor brands have carved out a clear line in the sand when it comes to rivals. Pepsi has led multiple campaigns using Coke as a means to an end; spoiler alert, it always ends with Pepsi .

Unsurprisingly, this longstanding marketing trope has become tired, leaving consumers craving more exciting and unexpected campaigns. Marketing guru Mike Michalowicz explains this as “habituation”: when the same marketing tactics are overused, customers become accustomed to them – eventually learning to ignore them.

Not too long ago, Kiwi brands Burger Fuel and Hell Pizza teamed up - and by teaming up we mean went head to head! The two collaborated in a joint promotion delivered in a nostalgic arcade gaming style, called ‘Eat Fighter – Battle of the Brands’ – a nod to their mid-90s roots. These like-minded brands challenged each other to produce a limited time creation using Oamaru lamb shoulder… in what became a battle of the lambs.

Did you savour their creations? We’re still debating which brand did it best!

Either way, this partnership was tastefully done (pun intended) and a real marketing success. As well as promoting their products, the collaboration showcased New Zealand produce - “which is at the heart of what we both do,” says Ben Cumming, CEO of Hell Pizza. This came at a time when supporting local was at the forefront of Kiwis’ minds, with recent lockdowns highlighting the importance of our homegrown businesses.

But, was it the purpose-led aspect that made this partnership a success or do consumers actually enjoy frenemies collaborating?

There has been a complete 180 when it comes to competitor marketing. Studies at Harvard Business suggest that “praising competitors makes brands seem more thoughtful, kind, and trustworthy, ultimately making consumers more likely to buy their products”. In fact, they conducted a study that determined individuals were 35% more likely to purchase a KitKat after believing the brand had sent a supportive Tweet to competitor Twix.

So, it’s official, supporting your competitors can benefit your business, but working with them? The example above reflects a possible change in attitude towards our competition without any true collaboration taking place. Let’s look more into what can happen when competitors collaborate on a deeper level.

Collaborating frenemies tend to need a common interest.

Airlines ‘code share’ as a way of working together to help grow their industry. Code sharing allows airlines to list their competitor’s flights on their website under their airline code. This way, they share the profits with their competitor who didn’t pay to market their services but will run the flight.

Many airlines take part in code sharing with the common goal of benefiting their industry. While they continue to compete publicly, working together privately is a win-win for all involved.

Making purpose-led partnerships impactful.

Coopetition (cooperation and competition) is known to turn heads. And, what better direction to turn consumers to than the emerging climate crisis?

Despite individually competing for the same footwear loving audience, Allbirds and Adidas turned competition into a partnership to accelerate their journeys towards ‘low-carbon high performance’, which involved pulling resources from one another without discrediting their own brand:

“We’ve always known that the climate crisis is too big to solve alone. This is exactly why we teamed up with Adidas. Together, we shared proprietary technologies, material innovations, and a common goal: To create a performance shoe with our lowest carbon footprint on record.” Together Allbirds and Adidas will continue to build this range in the hopes of promoting a carbon-neutral future.

This is a great example of how competitors can both benefit when they put aside their differences for a larger, more value-driven purpose.

Adidas x AllBirds Partnership

So, what could partnering with your competition look like?

Partnering with competitors in the form of knowledge sharing, technology transfers, purchasing/distribution agreements, marketing/promotional collaboration, or joint product development are just some of the ways brands are making frenemies for the greater good.

Jot down your competitors and have a good think about the shared challenges you’re both trying to solve. Is there an opportunity for an alliance to come up with an awesome solution you couldn’t on your own?

If this has got your head spinning with ideas (or questions), we’d love to talk about what partnership opportunities could suit your brand. Just don’t tell your competitor (yet).

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