COLLAB FATIGUE IS COMING – HERE’S WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT – podcast transcript

Jessica Kingman
Hello, everyone, and welcome to The Richards Group Digital Trends podcast. I’m your host and Digital Strategy Group head, Jessica Kingman. And in each episode, I’ll be diving into one of our 10 Digital Trends for 2020. And today I’m talking with digital strategists, Trey Green and Helina Seyoum, about their trend, Collaboration Fatigue Is Coming. Hi, Trey. Hi, Helina.

Trey Green
So what’s up?

Jessica Kingman
How are you guys?

Trey Green
Good.

Jessica Kingman
Excited?

Helina Seyoum
Yeah.

Jessica Kingman
So just at a very high level, talk to me about your trend and why advertisers, clients, and brands themselves should care?

Helina Seyoum
Yeah, so our trend is essentially about how, because of this oversaturation of collaborations now in the last couple of years, they’re kind of hitting this plateau. And so, you know, for the next year, they’re not going to stop happening, but how do you differentiate yourself from all the other players that are doing a lot of the same stuff, a lot of really cool stuff. And a lot of that exists in co-creation, like authentic genuine partnerships. And yeah, Trey, do you have anything you want to add?

Trey Green
I think with the rise of influencer marketing now because of social media, a lot of brands are trying to play in that space and figure out what’s the best way for our brand to be seen in a new light and also garner a new audience. And I think we’re kind of at the decline now, if you will, of influencers on social media. Collaborations have taken an uprise, if you will. And we talked a little bit about how there’s different ways in which you can go about it. There’s different amplifiers you can use. There’s definitely a right way to do it and definitely a wrong way to do it. I think we talked about that with co-creation and then pandering.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, I want to circle back to the inauthenticity of it, but, Helina, you made a great point about collaborations have been something that is a rich territory for other industries outside of advertising, right? So, I’m interested about the idea of where collaborations originated and how they’re continuing to thrive and other industries perhaps?

Helina Seyoum
Yeah, so we talked about Run-D.M.C. in our trend, in context of like Aerosmith and their collaboration for their song, but they had a collaboration with Adidas in the ’80s. That was, like, it’s still known today as probably like the genesis of, like, the modern-day collaborations. They essentially were, you know, they’re from New York, they saw this rise in streetwear culture, and within a specific culture like hip-hop and B-boys, and they started to associate themselves with Adidas, even beyond it before Adidas recognized them as an act. And then they were at a concert and their manager Lyor Cohen at the time, he invited the people at Adidas to come to their Madison Square Garden concert. And basically they were rapping about Adidas, and they had the song “My Adidas” where they were talking about how much Adidas means to them and what it means to wear stripes and telling the crowd to hold up their Adidas like tracksuits and everything from the ’80s, if you can get that visual. And, yeah, and it was just like this genuine, like, moment where they were like why aren’t we tapping into this? And like there’s already this, like, shared identity, so why not? And that ever since then, it’s kind of been like a replication of that.

Jessica Kingman
Do you think collaborations are, I mean, they’re inherent in music, right? But you talk about the differences between a collaboration and a duet. And so I’m kind of interested in hearing just a little bit more about the differences between the two, and why you think one has maybe taken off in an advertising sense and one hasn’t?

Helina Seyoum
Yeah. So yeah, music is the industry that we felt most mirrored successful collaborations. And so with a duet, it was where, you know, two artists that have similar sound, similar background, similar genre, have kind of the same fanbase really coming together to make something that, you know, just makes sense, it’s like complementary. They both have, like, equal importance to a song. And it’s just to, like, it just seems like a given. But it’s just a great way to, like, reach two groups from a similar audience. Whereas, something like Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C., where it was two very different genres of music. So we have hip-hop, which was really just emerging at the time, classic rock, which was kind of starting to take a backseat after hip-hop started to gain traction. And they had, you know, they were servicing very, two very different audiences at the time. And so them coming together was like marrying these very different audiences, very different types of people with different sounds. And I feel like that relates to advertising, especially when you’re wanting to have this, like, massive reach, and try and speak to a group of people who may not know your brand, but may have an interest in it if the collaboration is done in a way that seems genuine and authentic and it makes sense too. But I think that space is where advertising has the biggest space to play.

Jessica Kingman
So you talk about Virgil Abloh. And I really, I personally see him as somebody who has been a little bit of a driving force and driving these brand collaborations. So for those who may not be as cool as you two, like, who is Virgil Abloh? How did he kind of get to the point where he is today? And what has he done along the way to perhaps kind of create this kind of mecca of brand collaborations around him?

Trey Green
Yeah, so, he started in Kanye’s camp with a couple of other different guys, Don C, and a couple of guys after that. And then from there kind of graduated to Off-White, which he is the CEO of, another fashion label. Then now, kind of, even more of a graduation to being a head men’s designer at Louis Vuitton. So I think over the years, just seeing his progression in the fashion world and now being kind of, I guess, the king of being the guy right now, the cool kid, if you will, everything he’s doing, he seems like he can’t miss. So that’s from Nike, that’s from his Off-White collaboration that he’s doing. To even his recent fashion shows with Louis Vuitton, him kind of bringing back that once high affinity for that brand. You see that and a lot of rappers, a lot of different entertainers are now wearing Louis Vuitton again, which is I guess is accredited to him.

Jessica Kingman
Trey, you talk a lot about, and I’ve heard you do it a lot internally, about spheres of influence, and you all mention it toward the end of your trend, that it’s not enough, perhaps, to just look at an influencer but who are the influencers’ influences. So who is influencing that person, and everybody really has these spheres of influence around them. So, Trey, I kind of want to hear a little bit more for those who don’t know, kind of your gospel of the spheres of influence. And, you know, how people can begin to perhaps lean on that in the future.

Trey Green
Yeah, I think in the influencer kind of age, we got lost in the sauce a little bit. And what I mean by that is, there’s a lot of influences we can choose from, there’s networks. They have different agencies now that are full of influencers for a brand. And so I guess as of late, and kind of my secret sauce, is just finding that person that was influenced by the influencer, right? And so we talked about Joe Freshgoods and Snapple – to me, it was like, you know who was influenced by Joe? Right? It’s like who was the bigger name that is really kind of looking at Joe for inspiration, whether that was in his fashion, or even some of the drop culture which he kind of leans into heavy. And so to me it was like, “Who’s that guy that they’re looking for?” And I think that is where we found magic in that collaboration because it’s not someone which has the biggest name out there. We looked for somebody that was on the cusp, somebody that was really about to take off here soon. And just kind of the two, I guess, calendars if you will, just lined up as far as his trajectory and going up and being a big name here soon, if he’s not already. Snapple just wanting to be a part of that, wanted to be as helpful as they could. And so for me, it was about finding that person that influences that influencer. Which I hope I kind of bottled that up.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, you mentioned drop culture, and I think it’s something that we’ve seen a lot of brands begin to emulate and begin to try to capture to make some noise. So what is drop culture?

Helina Seyoum
Yeah, so drop culture is essentially like a release strategy. It’s like a way in which people put out, whether it’s the product or the clothes, the merch, or whatever it may be, out to the world. And for music that looks like album releases or like tour announcements. Fashion that’s like, it could be a merch club. It could be like a new, like, what Trey talks about, Supreme and their whole like, whether it could be a fall look book or whatever that collection is for that season. And then for advertising, it’s just it, it’s whatever we’re putting out. And like Trey said, that could be the actual product, that could be commercials, that could be partnerships. It can exist on so many different levels. But it’s really just like a release strategy and like a really strategic type of release strategy.

Trey Green
And the purpose of it is to create hype around what you’re about to do, rather than the whole strategy point of, is the fact of, it’s the strategy of doing multiple things and now lead up to something bigger, and something where people can be excited for.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah. I want to talk about the pandering of brand-specific subcultures. So we see a lot recently of woke washing and rainbow washing. What’s the difference between brands who are pandering to a specific subcommunity vs. those that are truly making a cultural impact within that community?

Trey Green
Yeah, I would go back to the idea of co-creation, right? And I think for a brand that’s pretty hard to let go of a little bit of their brand principle, a little bit of their brand image, right, to allow someone to come in now to co-create with that. I think that ideation or co-creation is very important for successful collaboration, right? And I think it becomes pandering when the brand doesn’t want to listen, when the brand doesn’t want to collaborate, if you will, in that process, because they know – well, we’ll still get the same out of if we just work with you and kind of have some of that borrowed equity, right? And so I think the more brand can like release some of that, is when you get the best result.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, so that’s a really interesting point. I mean, how do you guys think that brand guidelines or brand safety guidelines in a lot of ways have to flex in this age to create a really true collaboration?

Helina Seyoum
They definitely do.

Trey Green
I think that you have be vulnerable, though, as a brand. I feel like Snapple was my best example, but them trying to attract a new audience, I think we just had to be vulnerable to them, be open to change, if you will, be open to allow our brand and our drink to now be seen in a different light. And I think the more brands can adopt that and really put that into action, the better the reaction you will see from audience, right? I think, just that fact there is what I think is probably the biggest.

Jessica Kingman
You spoke about vulnerability earlier when we talked about brand guidelines, and I think Snapple is a really good example of a brand being vulnerable and a collaboration process and that they opened up their iconic Snapple bottle to Joe, to really kind of have his way with it in a lot of ways. So how do you think that by Snapple letting Joe kind of take something that was iconic and really, you know, when people see a Snapple bottle they – it’s kind of like that automatic cue, “That’s a Snapple.” How do you feel like that vulnerability on Snapple’s behalf really affected the success of that campaign or collaboration?

Trey Green
Yeah, well, first off, just that’s not an easy thing to do as a brand. That’s literally what their brand is, is their label, their bottle, and their drink. So for them to be vulnerable and allow Joe to play with that label and really kind of, you know, I keep saying it, put the brand in a new light, that was really the success at the end of it, right? When people saw Snapple at a Joe Freshgoods pop-up, they saw the bottle, right, and they saw how playful is, how iconic of a label that is, and the color and the leaders in flavor innovation, for Joe to have his own label and bottle, to actually present to the streets, to his audience, right? That just made the world of difference, and I think for Snapple to be vulnerable in that light, they got a lot of credit for, right? Because they didn’t have to do it. They could have just told Joe, “Hey, we just want a couple pieces of merch.” Like, we’ll be good, we just want to hang back, right? But I think them allowing him to actually play with that really was the, I guess, the biggest success metric.

Helina Seyoum
Right? Yeah, I think especially when you’re working with someone who’s like a creative and like an artist at the end of the day, like they want something that’s, that they can influence. I feel like if there’s not really anything for them to take and kind of make their own, and it doesn’t really feel all that special, and it doesn’t really make for a great collaboration. I feel like that was one of the biggest differentiators between Snapple and probably many of the other brands that were knocking at Joe’s door was that nobody gave him an opportunity, like a bottle, a flavor, a label, all the stuff that we’re able to provide for him to kind of just use as a blank canvas.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, I kind of want to move on from the Snapple and Joe Freshgoods collaboration.

And kind of move back, widen the aperture to kind of the landscape of collaborations. So one of the things that you two mentioned in your trend is Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s duet of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as kind of an analogy to two people, and, Helina, you mentioned it before, two people with really similar audiences, really similar values, as this analogy for something like Taco Bell and Doritos® launching the Doritos Loco Tacos. So I’m interested as you compare that to the Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith example of “Walk This Way” that we talked about – do you think that duets are actually the future of collaborations or do you think we’ll see more of those two worlds kind of coming together in the future?

Helina Seyoum
Good question. I think, I don’t think neither – I don’t think one will exist and another won’t. I do see duets being a safe, a safer bet, with a brand to align itself with something that already kind of makes sense and has like a similar audience. Especially where, you know, brands are just now, in the last couple years, starting to venture into collaboration space. I bet they kind of want to dip their toe into it first with like a duet, rather than just go off the wall and partner with, I don’t know, some random, like very avant-garde brand or influencer, but I think there’s still – especially when we’re talking about, like making noise and being different and, I don’t know, inspiring, a lot of that happens when you don’t play it safe and you don’t do what’s expected. So, honestly, I don’t think one will exist more than another.

Trey Green
Feel free to combat me on this, but I feel like a duet is so safe. Like to a point where it’s like, “Okay, like they did that, that’s cool.” And they may come out with a commercial behind it. But you don’t get the experience in which I think you do with a brand-to-brand, per se. I think when you’re playing it safe, you can only get so much credit in that. Right? You have people come in to try the taco or what-have-you, but I think we can actually do something out in the world and have somebody experience, if you will, and have someone in the audience now come and see that in a new light, right? Even though I guess in the Taco Bell example, people are now coming to eat Taco Bell and experience that. I think also, to me this credit comes from just brand-to-brand, right? It’s like you being now vulnerable, and saying, like, look, and it’s not as a brand saying, “We don’t know what we’re doing. You’re the collaborator, like just go and do it.” I think it’s like what we have is our core principles. We know who our audience is, we know where we get most of our love from, you know, where we sell the most bottles, or what have you, right? But I think now telling that to someone and them now having that blank canvas, like you mentioned, and being creative now. Like that’s, to me, that’s where the fun and the magic happens, right? And I don’t, I wouldn’t say it doesn’t happen in a duet, but it’s a lot more, you can see it a lot more clear in a brand-to-brand type of collaboration.

Helina Seyoum
Would you classify the Snapple/Joe Freshgoods partnership as a duet, because I feel like depending on who you ask, because sometimes or in one light, it can feel like it is a duet because, you know, both brands are really colorful, both brands you could see how there could be an overlap in like aesthetics, and kind of just like what they’re trying to exude as a brand themselves individually. They overlap well. So some, you know, if you ask some person, then yes, it is a duet, in my opinion. But I think that it still has a lot of the same characteristics of like, it’s still genuine, it’s still was an open opportunity for the other person to come in and, like, you know, have this like baby that they can just create with another person, even though it was still a duet. But if you ask someone else who’s, you know, super deep into the world of advertising and only understands like CPG brands with CPG brands or whatever, partnering with a designer, that’s crazy off the wall, like that’s so different and never before seen, yada yada. So I don’t know, I feel like it’s a perspective thing. But I think there can still be a duet with like a lot of those principles.

Trey Green
Yeah, no, I agree.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, I mean, I think even though you’re breaking Trey’s heart right now, is, I mean, I think if you look at who Snapple was working with before, right, we were kind of focused on the Kardashians and broader, bigger, mass-reach entities. We were trying to borrow the equity from those folks and trying to get on, you know, Khloe Kardashian’s Instagram story, which was, honestly when that happened, that was a coup for us. But with Joe, like, I think that that was a truly different approach from anything that we’ve done before.

But to read more about Trey and Helina’s trend, Collaboration Fatigue Is Coming, as well as other trends we predict will make an impact in the advertising and brand landscape in 2020, please go to trends.richards.com. Trey, Helina, thank you, thank you guys very much.

Both
Thank you.

 

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