Odd couples: 10 unlikely brand collaborations

Brand collaborations

Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, fried chicken and waffles—some matches are just made in heaven. Whether it’s celebrities collaborating with brands or brands collaborating with each other, the perfect match can mutually benefit both parties. As consumers become harder to reach and more distracted than ever, brands must find innovative ways to maintain relevance and promote themselves. While some partnerships, like Harley Davidson and Marvel or Apple and Nike, seem like great ideas from the start, some collaborations can leave you wondering. Here are ten brand collaborations that took us by surprise and took the world by storm:

Brand x Brand collaborations

1. USPS x Forever21

In the spring of 2019, the young and hip fashion label Forever 21 teamed up with the US Postal Service. Their collaboration produced an apparel and accessories collection that was both outstandingly innovative and casual. The intriguing combo caught everyone’s attention and had people talking about the clothing line and the somewhat overlooked government department. Moreover, USPS got royalties for the logos and designs. So when the products started flying off the shelves, everybody was a winner. “Priority mail” tube tops, transparent hooded jackets with “official use” down the sleeves, belts that look like packing tapes, and zippered clutches with the USPS logo were some of the bestsellers. Forever 21 seems to have a penchant for choosing eclectic partners, having also collaborated with Cheetos, Pantone, and the NBA.

2. Smeg x Dolce & Gabbana

The iconic fashion house Dolce & Gabbana and appliance manufacturer Smeg joined forces in 2018 to pay tribute to their motherland Italy. Their “Sicily is my Love” collection presented a fusion of artistic sensibilities. It consisted of kitchen appliances with hand-printed prototypes of native fruits designed by Sicilian artists. However, a lifestyle brand and an appliance manufacturer are an odd couple. But there is a more practical reason behind this collaboration. Suppose lifestyle brands were to branch out into appliances or other such products. In that case, the quality of the product might get compromised because that’s not their field of expertise. So the solution is an “odd couple” collaboration with a renowned electronics manufacturer. This collaboration also makes sense because, arguably, the best things to come out of Italy are the food and the fashion. 

3. Issey Miyake x Dyson

Here is another fashion-electronics collab. Issey Miyake’s 2008 Summer/Spring collection, called “The Wind”, featured clothing that interacts with the wind. Dyson provided the onstage wind machine that created the effect. The inspiration for the DC16 jacket that was part of this collection was the DC16 handheld vacuum cleaner. In the true spirit of collaboration, Miyake designed the vacuum cleaner, while Dyson created the coat. It speaks to the designers’ synergy that both the vacuum cleaner and the dress are works of art.

4. Etude House x KitKat

It’s not the first time food has inspired a cosmetic brand. Bonne Belle and Dr Pepper formed a partnership in the 70s, and soda-flavoured lip balm has graced many a lip since that time. However, in the Korean and Japanese markets, KitKat rules supreme, with quirky flavours that are not so readily available in other countries. This popularity would explain why right before Valentine’s Day 2019, Korean beauty brand Etude House brought out its own box of chocolates—two eyeshadow palettes inspired by KitKat (original milk chocolate set and white strawberry chocolate set). The result was playful and fun, just like the chocolate itself.

5. Hello Kitty x Eva Air

Taiwanese air carrier Eva Air has seven Special Livery Jets dedicated to Hello Kitty. Everything from the boarding pass to the menu is Sanrio-themed. The service provides Hello Kitty fans with a novel experience. Indeed, any kid who gets on board climbs off with a fun childhood memory, potentially translating to brand loyalty. The aircraft-turned-theme-park idea seems excellent. A Harry Potter-themed one next, please. I would love access to Hogwarts-themed apparel, available now at Vans, but a wizardly flight ride would be out of this world.

Celebrity x Brand collaborations

For celebrity partnerships to work, the brand and the celebrity need to represent the same ideals and be on the same page—it can’t just be about money. It is evident when the artist becomes deeply involved with the brand and the campaign. Whether it is Whipshots, Cardi B’s vodka-infused whipped cream or Lil Wayne’s AE x Young Money line with American Eagle, brand-celebrity collaborations can produce excellent results when done right. Over the years, there have been a few unexpected celebrity endorsements. Remember the Nintendo ad where Penelope Cruz dressed as Mario? Or that time Kim Kardashian did an ad for toilet paper? Here are some celebrity x brand partnerships that just clicked. 

1. Travis Scott x McDonald’s

In September 2020, McDonald’s debuted the Travis Scott Meal. However, the fast food company didn’t add any new menu items. Still, the meal was very affordable and sold like hotcakes. The idea of having a celebrity’s personalised order appealed so much to folks that they ran out of Quarter Pounder ingredients at one point. Scott earned an incredible $20 million in endorsement and product sales. The strategy works for multiple reasons, including Travis’ popularity with the younger demographic and the lure of trends involving personalised orders. 

2. Megan Thee Stallion x Popeyes

In 2021, rapper extraordinaire Megan Thee Stallion signed a franchise agreement with Popeyes to open five restaurants. She also developed a product in the process—Popeyes Megan Thee Stallion Hottie Sauce (sweet and spicy, like Megan herself). The collaboration also gave her a share of the sales profits of the hot sauce. This collaboration’s merchandise also included bikinis, dog toys, and hats. The collab worked wonders because Megan wanted to be a part of the brand. She was also appreciative of their commitment towards the empowerment of black women. This passion, along with her star appeal, definitely made Megan an excellent choice for Popeye’s as well.

3. Ryan Reynolds x Mint Mobile/Aviation Gin

You wouldn’t know it pre-Deadpool, but Ryan Reynolds is a fantastic businessman. And he seems to be partnering up with all the right people. For example, Mint Mobile has seen tremendous growth since he came on board and eventually bought a majority of the shares in late 2019. Another brand that Reynolds actively promotes and has stakes in is Aviation Gin. This product features in Reynolds’ movies like Red NoticeHitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard6 Underground, and even his wife Blake Lively’s A Simple Favor

4. Patrick Stewart and Mark Hamill x Uber Eats

Star Wars–Star Trek crossover, you say? This campaign’s timing was nearly perfect as it came out just as Uber Eats became hugely popular and convenient during the pandemic. The company understood that it wouldn’t be gaining any significant revenue from the original Uber rides soon. Therefore, they doubled down on the marketing for the food delivery service. While artists brought fans together with zoom reunions during the lockdown, the Star Wars and Star Trek fan bases adored Hamill and Stewart’s cheeky commercials. Uber did not spend anything on copyrights because there was no actual mention of either franchise; they merely harnessed the star power of the legends.

5. Chris Evans x Jinx

If you only know Evans from his movies, you wouldn’t understand why he would endorse a dog food brand. But here’s what everyone who’s been following Evans on social media knows—Captain America is a dog dad, and Jinx made this match in doggy heaven. In addition to sharing the star’s passion for more responsible canine nutrition, Jinx also provides a platform for Evans to encourage dog lovers to rescue and adopt dogs.

Brand collaborations always aim to create something out of the box, unanticipated and fresh. The collaborations mentioned above have brought out an exciting amalgamation of art forms, ideas, names and voices. These brands crossed the barriers surrounding industries; they have also seen massive growth, benefiting both parties and the customers. Here’s hoping for more exciting and unusual brand collaborations that will sweep us off our feet, at the least!

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