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How Brand Collaborations Defeat Brand-Image Traps

Collaborating is often seen as one of the most effective ways to grow and build an audience for your brand. Traditionally the thought process behind collaborating is that your brand’s following will “cross-pollinate” with the following of the brand you are working with, and in turn you gain new fans or customers. Collaborations happen across various industries, and though they are generally seen as positive occurrences, its key to measure the cohesiveness of value propositions to make sure that the collaboration makes sense.

In the sneaker industry, the number of collaborations among brands is arguably at an all time high, and while they certainly are exciting for consumers, it's important to recognize who is benefiting most from the collaborative relationships, and if the collaboration is hurting the core brand identity or mission.

Most recently, we’ve seen Nike team up with some heavy hitting designers in the high-fashion realm. Working with Pigalle and Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, Nike created several premium Air Force 1 iterations. Priced at a premium and released in limited quantity, at first glance it would appear as though Pigalle and Tisci are benefiting most from the collaboration. After all, few get the privilege of working with Nike on a project, and even fewer get to create an entire collection that is distributed globally.  

However, Nike isn’t simply doing these brands a favor. For a company the size of Nike, encompassing every aspect of the footwear industry is not just a goal, but an attainable one. However, with a legacy of athletic footwear, Nike suffers from what is referred to as a product attribute trap. For Nike, innovation, comfort, and superior athletic performance shoes are largely what is recalled and recognized when people are cued for footwear companies. If those same people are cued for brands that create luxury footwear, Nike won’t be the first name recognized or recalled for that category.

So how can Nike escape their product attribute trap? Enter the collaboration. By placing the Nike brand next to such established retailers as Givenchy and Pigalle, they are in a sense granted access and recognition in a category they otherwise would be unable to access. More importantly, it allows Nike to then position other products in strategic outlets (The Jordan Shine in Barney’s for example) at a premium price with less resistance and more acceptance than if they attempted to enter the higher-tiered footwear market without a collaboration. More importantly, it gives them more control over their athletes in terms of representation. Rather than reaching for a pair of Balenciagas post game, Nike now can offer their athletes a premium luxury sneaker.

So who benefits more from the collaboration? For this case, I would argue Nike benefits greatly. Not only are they gaining access and acceptance into an area of the footwear industry they’ve left largely untapped, but the collaborations also net them a profit from strictly the sales alone. Do you agree? Which companies have the most to gain from collaborations in the footwear industry?