Collaborative Genius: Unleashing the Potential of Co-Branding Partnerships.

Elevating Business Value and Creating Signature Experiences: The Success Stories of Bunnings, Bluey, Crocs, and New Balance.

Bunnings, Bluey and the beauty of co-branding

For those with kids under the age of 10, it’s likely that Bluey has transcended being just a television show to become a cultural sensation. This stellar Aussie export climbed the charts to become the second most streamed show in the U.S in 2023, a remarkable feat for an animated series made in Brisbane. 

In our home, with two little ones under the age of three, Bluey merchandise has practically taken over, from clothes, plastic figurines, bath toys, puzzles, even tooth brushes. If it’s got Bluey or Bingo on it, the Rowells probably have it. 

So, when Bunnings announced their plan to transform five of their stores into “Hammerbarn” — its fictional counterpart from a Bluey episode — for the entire month of February, how could we resist? We earmarked a special Sunday to visit the Keperra store, which for a brief period, shed its Bunnings identity to embrace the vibrant world of Bluey.

The transformation was comprehensive: the storefront signage, staff uniforms, even the kids’ trolleys—all were reimagined to create an authentic “Hammerbarn” experience. With pop-up events and exclusive merchandise featuring show characters, this was not your average trip to Bunnings. 

Bella, our eldest, was over the moon, eagerly guiding a ‘Bella-sized’ trolley through the aisles, her eyes wide with wonder at the Bluey X Hammerbarn Merchandise stand, picking out ‘Hecuba’, a $19.95 ceramic garden gnome, to bring home… Fantastic 😑

Bella at ‘Hammerbarn’.

While Bluey enthusiasts like us revelled in the magic, for the uninitiated, it was a head-scratcher—one bewildered woman remarked, “Bunnings is now Hammerbarn?!” as we exited, her confusion echoing that of several shoppers.

The marketing impact was undeniable—the merchandise flew off the shelves, with full collections reselling for ridiculous markups as high as $25K on eBay!

eBay listing of Bunnings x Bluey Hammerbarn Merchandise.

Now, I assure you, this article isn’t just a trip through our family’s Bluey obsession.

Let’s delve deeper into the art of brand collaborations and co-branding, where the merging of audiences, the stirring of excitement, and the amplification of brand value are all part of the game.

What is co-branding?

Co-branding is essentially a strategic alliance where two or more brands team up on a project, product, or service. It’s about leveraging each brand’s strengths and market presence to create something uniquely compelling. By pooling resources and tapping into each other’s customer bases, brands can unlock new opportunities, share costs, and amplify their reach.

This approach is akin to forming a supergroup in the business world—combining the best elements of each brand to produce a standout offering that wouldn’t be possible solo. The aim here is to create a synergy that enhances brand perception, expands market access, and engages new segments in meaningful ways.

Notable co-brand partnerships include Apple & Hermès, IKEA & Sonos, and GoPro & Redbull, however in this article I’ll talk about two brands who have seen a resurgence in their popularity and share price off the back of inspiring collaborations — Crocs and New Balance.

But before we get there, what if you’re not running a global brand, is the potential of co-branding available to you? Short answer, yes. Just possibly without the frontpage news. 

Why does co-branding matter for small business owners and founders?

For business owners and founders, co-branding offers a strategic pathway to boost brand visibility, forge valuable partnerships, and drive growth. It’s about finding the right collaborator whose brand ethos and customer base complement your own, thereby setting the stage for mutual success. When executed with precision, co-branding can elevate your brand’s status, deepen customer loyalty, and significantly impact your bottom line.

More transformative co-branding strategies in action

Crocs: From fashion faux pas to runway success

Until not too long ago, Crocs were the butt of many jokes, labelled daggy and uncool, the go-to footwear for chefs and home gardeners. They even made it onto TIME magazine’s list of the 50 worst inventions in 2010.

Fast forward to 2016, and Crocs were strutting down the runway at London Fashion Week, reimagined by designer Christopher Kane with marbled designs and adorned with mineral charms. This bold move turned heads and rewrote the brand’s narrative, with fashion heavyweights like Vogue and Elle singing its praises.

Then there’s the Post Malone effect of 2018, catapulting Crocs into pop culture stardom, particularly among Gen Z. 

These days, spotting Crocs bedazzled with ‘Jibbitz™’ on the feet of fashionistas isn’t out of the ordinary.

Salehe Bembury x Crocs “Urchin”

Perhaps the most striking evolution came in 2021 with the collaboration between Crocs and designer Salehe Bembury. The launch of the Pollex Clog redefined what Crocs could be, merging functionality with high-end fashion design in a way that further challenged preconceived notions of the brand. This collaboration underscored Crocs’ commitment to innovation and their ability to transcend their original image.

Crocs’ Market Capitalisation.

The impact of these strategic partnerships is evident in Crocs’ financial success. As illustrated in the accompanying chart, Crocs’ stock value experienced a significant increase from 2009 to 2024, with a remarkable peak market cap of $10.96 billion in late 2021. This financial trajectory is a testament to the transformative power of creative collaborations and Crocs’ ability to reinvent itself, moving from the butt of jokes to a beloved icon in the fashion and pop culture landscape.

New Balance: Reinventing its brand for future success

New Balance, once the quintessential ‘Dad shoe’, has surged to the forefront of the sneaker scene, thanks in part to a series of savvy collaborations. They’ve teamed up with celebrities and kindred brands, each partnership serving a strategic purpose, whether it’s storytelling, market amplification, or the renaissance of vintage models. Aimé Leon Dore’s influence on the revival of the 550s/650R, Stray Rats’ on the 827s, and Casablanca’s debut of new models in the 327s and XC-72 series are prime examples.

These collaborations proved extremely successful for New Balance, as they finished 2023 coining a 23 percent increase from 2022’s revenue. Compared to Nike’s modest 9.6 percent growth in the same period, much can be said for New Balance’s successful co-branding strategy.

Prime examples of New Balance’s collaborations.

Key strategies for a successful co-branding campaign

So, what’s the takeaway for brands looking to replicate this success?

Honestly, some of these collaborations might stem from serendipity, with formal partnerships blossoming from chance encounters. But why leave it to fate? The first step is to know your ideal customer inside out. What moves them? What complements their lifestyle? How can you elevate their cool factor, offer exclusivity, or give them that ‘in the know’ advantage?

Are there complementary businesses you can partner with to reach new audiences, ensuring their customer base aligns with your brand aspirations?

Sometimes it’s about finding that perfect crossover, as with Bunnings and Bluey, or breaking the mould like Crocs, pairing the unlikely to create something extraordinary.

“One thing that we always try to do is ensure that all of our partnerships are a reflection of our values as a brand,” New Balance Chief Marketing Officer, Chris Davis says. “Everything begins with a co-authored approach across product, content and strategy.”

Source: In 2022, New Balance, Streetwear’s Sleeping Giant, Finally Woke Up, Gear Patrol.

The six pillars of impactful co-branding

Remember these six key points to ensure your collaboration hits the mark:

  • Add value: Does the partnership enhance product design, awareness, or brand significance?
  • Expand audience: Can they bring an equal or larger audience to the table?
  • Cultivate exclusivity: Does it create a buzz through limited availability, playing on the ‘fear of missing out’?
  • Maintain quality: Will the final product live up to the hype?
  • Document the journey: Documenting the process will add depth and authenticity, making the audience feel part of the process.
  • Amplify marketing: Have you spread the word far and wide?

Bonus tip: How waitlists can maximise co-branding

In the dance of collaboration, a waitlist can serve as the perfect prelude, setting the stage for a successful launch. It’s a strategy that stirs up anticipation, allowing consumers to express their interest and commitment early on. A recent Carhartt and New Balance partnership is a prime example, where the waitlist not only drummed up excitement but also provided a safety net of pre-committed buyers, turning eager anticipation into a secure investment.

Embracing a waitlist approach means transforming product launches into highly anticipated events. It’s an ingenious way to build a community around your brand, fostering a sense of exclusivity and belonging. For emerging brands, this method offers a glimpse into potential success, allowing them to scale production in line with real, quantifiable demand, and for consumers, it creates an engaging narrative around the product, making the wait part of the rewarding experience.

The enduring power of co-branding

The essence of collaboration is not just in the joining of two entities but in the creation of something new and exciting. It’s about doing cool stuff, making waves, and maybe, just maybe, reaping the benefits of co-branding.

I’m curious about your picks—what’s been the most memorable brand partnership for you? Or, if you’re a fan of the Heeler family’s adventures, which ‘Bluey’ episode tops your list? I love ‘Granny Mobile’ and ‘Cricket’. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to reach out.

Further food for thought: Potential partnerships envisioned by the DSR Team

Crafting this article sparked our creativity, prompting us to envision potential brand collaborations. Utilising the capabilities of Midjourney & DALL·E, two image-generative AIs, we brought to life our ideas. 

Crocs x Lacoste by Dan Rowell

“It’s a collaboration I can’t believe hasn’t happened. Two crocodile brands, it writes itself!”

Carhartt x Land Rover by Andy Doan

“A marriage between two of the hardest working brands” 

YETI x Milwaukee by Mitch Carrigan

“Keep your water cool and the hits hot.”

UNIQLO x Pantone by Cait Dorombozo

“Where simple style meets iconic colour.”