The More the Merrier

Co-branding is a great way for two otherwise unrelated brands to reach new and existing consumers
A new movie is about to hit theaters, and to get the word out everything from carbonated beverages to breakfast cereals become co-branded marketing vessels that feature images from the movie prominently displayed on their packages. While movie and sports are the most common product marriage, other kinds of co-branding are gaining prominence, especially within the beverage segment.
Beverage co-branding can be a match made in marketing heaven because beverages — especially carbonated beverages — have a high consumer penetration, low price points and great marketing support.
“When companies co-brand, they are trying to reach a particular audience in order to facilitate a transaction,” says Claire Rosenzweig, president of the Promotion Marketing Association (PMA), New York. “When they look at what’s going to be the factor that will convince the customer to buy their product, co-branding is a road that offers shared equity because although the goals can be multi-layered, each partner benefits from their partner’s brand promise. Whoever the partners are, there’s a shared visibility. Whether it’s NASCAR, a movie or a sports figure on the bottle, it means something to the consumer the company is targeting.”
Co-branded beverages often blend the best attributes of two well-known consumable entities. During the past few years, 7-Eleven Inc., Dallas, has teamed with Jolly Rancher, Life Savers, Willy Wonka Laffy Taffy, and Wrigley’s to offer co-branded candy Slurpee varieties. More recently, the company launched SoBe, Crystal Light, Diet Pepsi, Mountian Dew, and Starburst Orange and Cream flavored Slurpee varieties.
This past spring, the company launched a limited-edition Strawberry Twizzlers-flavored Slurpee with a companion Twizzlers Strawz candy that matched the Slurpee flavor profile.
To develop the paired items, 7-Eleven worked with Coca-Cola and Hershey Food Corp., the maker of Twizzlers candy, for a year prior to the launch. “This is a perfect example of team merchandising,” says John Ryckevic, 7-Eleven category manager for Slurpee and fountain drinks. “We approached two of our major supplier companies, Coca-Cola and Hershey, and they liked our idea of a Slurpee drink and straw tie-in.”
Ryckevic says the Strawberry Twizzlers-flavored Slurpee tastes exactly like the candy, and adds that candy-flavored Slurpees have proved extremely popular among those aged 12 to 18.
7-Eleven currently offers four edible straws: Sour Strawberry and Blue Raspberry Slurpee straws, a Paintbrush Gum Straw that turns a Slurpee drink colors when swirled, and the new Twizzlers Strawz. When the first candy straw was introduced in May 2003, the edible beverage accoutrements quickly caught on, becoming one of the top five non-chocolate items sold in 7-Eleven stores.
“A candy straw that you can use to drink and then eat seemed a natural tie-in, not to mention that both appeal to kids, who are core Slurpee drinkers and candy purchasers,” says Derek Schmitt, 7-Eleven category manager for candy, gum and mints.
Co-branding for a causeThere’s a relatively new breed of co-branded beverages that are substituting the likes of movies characters and sports figures with logos for charities and other civic-minded causes to generate awareness and proceeds for cash-strapped and donation-driven organizations.
In 1993, a firefighter from Tennessee and an Indiana bottler created a small but successful line of Firefighter branded canned sodas to sell at local fundraising events. In 2003 they approached SoBe co-founder John Bello and Bruce Burke, former advertising and marketing executive for the National Football League, with the idea of expanding their small local concept into a national brand. After months of research and testing to validate the viability of the concept, Firefighter Brand Products was born.
Firefighter Brand Products, comprised of Firefighter Brands LLC and Firefighter Beverages LLC, based in Norwalk, Conn., are private, for-profit companies that create and market “better-for-you” foods and beverages that benefit firefighter causes on a national and local level. Firefighter Brand Products donate 25 percent of annual net profits to firefighter-related organizations and causes. In addition to chili, kettle potato and tortilla chips, the line also includes four varieties of soda — Courageous Cola, Firelight Diet Cola, Backdraft Root Beer and Incendiary Citrus. The sodas boast 25 percent less sugar than other leading brands.
“The strength of the Firefighter Brand concept transcends our better-tasting, better-for-you products,” says Bello, founder and chief executive officer of Firefighter Brands LLC. “It proves that we can change the way business, civic organizations and communities come together to create real value.”
In the water segment, Euphoria Water, Miami Beach, Fla., co-brands its bottled water with various charitable organizations to not only raise money for the charity but also to build awareness for those causes because the charity’s logo is featured prominently on the label. “By co-branding with Euphoria, charities earn between a 1 and 4 percent contribution from the sale of every bottle of water that features that specific charity,” says Euphoria Chief Executive Officer Bernard Werner. “More importantly, every time somebody picks up the bottle with the charity’s logo, an impression is made, promoting awareness of the charity.”
Euphoria’s co-branded waters are currently sold at retail in California, Arizona and Nevada, and are also distributed at charity events. “Charities typically rely on events to generate money,” Werner says. “During the March of Dimes’ annual Walk America events, Euphoria supplied a March of Dimes co-branded water, which was the sole water brand of the event.”
In addition to March of Dimes, Euphoria has partnered with City of Hope, Make-a-Wish and Special Olympics of Northern California. By the end of 2004, Werner says Euphoria will have contributed $250,000 to charity since the company’s origination three years ago.
Along the same water vein, Atwood, Calif.-based America’s Schools Program (ASP) uses bottled water as a co-branding medium to raise funds for America’s public schools. The company’s co-branded bottled water division partners some of the nation’s biggest corporations with K-12 schools across the United States in an effort to provide discretionary funds for programs such as athletics, music, arts, drama and technology. ASP sells affordably priced, top-quality water to schools for fundraising, as well as to regional and national retailers and wholesalers.
“Corporations, retailers, wholesalers and school clubs now have the opportunity to share in their support of education by co-branding their image, logo or message with the America’s Schools label,” says Kimberly Wordsworth, National Director of America’s Schools Bottled Water Program. “The flexibility of the co-branded program allows the purchaser to use their own design bearing the ASP logo, or they can use the ASP label template bearing their logo, message or image. Proceeds from the sale of every bottle and/or case help to support America’s schools.”
Avoiding pitfalls
Beverage co-branding makes economic sense, as long as the compatibility of the consumer target is shared. “Brands have permission zones and if you want to venture out of your permission zone you should do it in conjunction with another brand name,” says Simon Williams, president and chief executive officer at the Sterling Group, a New York City-based brand consultancy. “Co-branding gives brands permission to enter new categories, stretching a brand farther, while still retaining credibility.”
Williams likens the co-branding arrangement to a dance, with each brand as a dance partner. There is one lead brand and one support brand. “Only one brand can lead because if the bottle looks like half of one brand and half the other brand, you run the risk of making too many confusing compromises,” he says, adding that the primary pitfalls of co-branding are complexity, corporate compatibility and clarity. “Companies should always be wary of half-baked co-branding ventures. Partnering companies with fundamentally different brand cultures can be risky. Egos can become an issue when companies get pushed out of their comfort zones. You should only consider co-branding if it’s to the advantage of both brands.” BI