Co-branding can be fun... Especially when it kind of happens by accident. We were at the BMW test track in Greenville to shoot some winter speedskating images, and the friendly folks there generously offered to dress up our shots with some cars.
"Um... How about that fast looking red one there?"
It was really more an issue of art direction than anything, but the implication of having a well-known quality lovebrand get into the shot and... In essence... Become an extension of the product, wasn't entirely lost on us.
There are worst things in this world than having your line of performance skates get associated with a brand like BMW. The image doesn't actually suggest a connection, but it does (on some level) suggest a parallel: Quality, performance, style, dependability, power, speed, comfort... You name it. It's a powerful association.
Anyway, it worked. This isn't one of the happiest shots from the shoot (it was bitterly cold and windy... And it started to sleet about twenty minutes after this photo was taken... So no big bright smiles that morning), but it's one that usually grabs peoples' eye. The red and black contrast is a big eye-catcher, especially with the car in the background. The overlapping skaters create a bit of a trompe-l'oeuil, which is kind of interesting to dissect. The beauty of speedskating form is expressed through a series of basic angles, at either end of which are a) the human element of speedskating (intensity, focus, confidence), and b) the product itself.
And of course there's the whole suggestion that the skaters may be racing the car... And winning.
By the same token, BMW's image can be reinforced by the notion that, like speedskaters, their cars are sporty, fast, strong, built for performance, sexy, adventurous, etc. Looking at the car (and brand) through a different keyhole, as it were, forces the customer to re-examine the many value strands that link him/her to BMW. Forget specific car features for a second. Put aside the leather seats and the steering and the all-wheel drive. Consider the actual connection between the customer and the brand. This indirect approach allows the customer to consider BMW's meaning within the context of his/her lifestyle, dreams, core values and even self image. The car becomes a metaphor... in many cases, it may even become a vessel. The skaters create the vehicles for the thematic language that links the customer to the brand.
The cool thing about this is that two companies with absolutely nothing to do with each other, completely different markets and customer bases, for starters, can still find this kind of visceral common ground. The simplicity of it might even be the best part. Although I just made an (arguably ill-fated) attempt at doing just that, you really don't have to explain it... It just kind of works. Whether reinforced by the matching colors, implied continuity of motion or by the basic context of the image, the connection is both instinctive and immediate.
Co-branding doesn't usually benefit both brands in the same way, but does almost always benefit both brands. It's good stuff, guys. You need to try it. (Just don't overdo it.)
Oh... and I did mention it was fun, right?