5 Model Partnership Fails [+Co-Marketing Mistakes to Avoid]


When you were in school, did you ever work on a group project?

If so, you probably remember that some went well, and others weren’t as synergistic.

The same thing is true with brand partnerships.

Sometimes co-marketing works because each brand pulls in a new audience and the two are able to learn from one another.

However, this isn’t the case with all partnerships.

Below, let’s review some brand partnerships that have failed and discuss co-marketing mistakes to avoid.

Click here to download a detailed guide and free templates for getting started  with co-marketing.

5 Brand Partnership Fails

1. Kendall Jenner and Pepsi

A few years ago, a major brand partnership that failed was between Kendall Jenner and Pepsi. Pepsi featured Jenner in a commercial where she offers a soda to a policeman at a protest.

Here’s the commercial:

The reason this partnership failed was because audiences thought the two brands were making light of serious social and civil rights issues.

Essentially, this commercial was perceived as being done in poor taste and didn’t showcase social consciousness.

2. Target and Neiman Marcus

In 2013, Target and Neiman Marcus partnered on a new clothing line.

However, Target’s customers search for cost-efficient, mass trend clothing options, while Neiman Marcus is a luxury brand that offers expensive, edgy clothes.

Unfortunately, this collection didn’t take Target’s target audience into account. The clothing line ended up being too expensive and edgy for Target’s audience.

Usually, if a high-end brand is partnering with Target, the prices would be lower, so customers can get trend-setting designs at an affordable price.

This partnership failed because the brands couldn’t make both target audiences’ happy with their collection.

3. Kraft and Starbucks

A partnership that had lasted for years ended in a major court battle.

When this partnership was successful, Kraft was able to help Starbucks grow by offering distribution services and helping the coffee brand build a presence in grocery stores.

According to William Neuman of “The New York Times,” “Kraft claims that Starbucks unilaterally decided to end their agreement, and Starbucks says that Kraft failed to aggressively promote its brands, which include Seattle’s Best Coffee, in stores.”

Ultimately, this brand partnership failed because of poor communication, and possibly poor execution as well.

4. Forever 21 and Atkins

Last year, Forever 21 decided to partner with Atkins by sending out Atkins snack bars to customers who had ordered online.

However, Forever 21’s target market didn’t appreciate the brand sending them weight loss bars. In fact, customers complained that the brand was body-shaming them.

Additionally, since the partnership wasn’t explained to customers, some people assumed the bars were being sent to plus-size customers who ordered online.

This partnership failed because it didn’t make sense for the audiences and the brands’ missions didn’t align.

5. Shell and LEGO

Another example of brands that had worked together for years (about 50 years to be exact), Shell and LEGO had a falling out.

At first, it made sense that LEGO would partner with an oil company because they could use the credibility of Shell with their race cars and gas station sets.

However, LEGO eventually became a global children’s entertainment brand, and the partnership didn’t make sense anymore because of the oil company’s reputation of poor environmental practices and oil drilling.

Eventually, this partnership failed because of the public outcry from LEGO’s audience and the impact on the brand’s reputation.

Now that we’ve reviewed some brand partnerships that have failed, let’s discuss why they didn’t do well and look at some common co-marketing mistakes to avoid.

1. Poor communication.

When you’re working with another brand, it’s important to communicate effectively and efficiently with each other.

You need to be honest about what you’re both going to give and get from the partnership since it has to make sense for your brands.

Margot Mazur, a senior marketing manager in charge of co-marketing for HubSpot, says, “Co-marketing is all about negotiation — you give some, and you get some from your partner. Make sure to come into the negotiation from a place of positivity, and instead of focusing on what you’re going to get — whether it’s promotional materials, ad spend, or placement — focus on what you can give the partner to make sure that they’re finding value from the relationship.”

She added, “On the other side of that email, there’s a human being trying to do their best work, just like you. Focus on strengthening that relationship, being honest and clear about expectations and needs, and your co-marketing offer is sure to succeed.”

2. The brand stories don’t align.

Before you partner with another brand, think about your brand messaging and your story. Personify your brand and think of it as a person — who is your brand?

Now, when you choose a partner, your brands should have the same values and similar brand messaging.

For example, if you’re an eco-friendly brand working with an oil company, those stories don’t make sense together.

Your brand stories need to align, otherwise your customers will notice and call you out.

3. The partnership doesn’t consider the customers.

As we saw with some of our examples, it’s important that a brand partnership makes sense for both target audiences.

In fact, three out of the five examples failed because the brand partnership didn’t make sense for the audience.

Before you begin a co-marketing relationship with another brand, consider your audience. Will this partnership make sense to them? What would they think of your partnership?

It’s important to answer these questions before moving forward with a co-marketing campaign.

4. Badly written agreements.

Unfortunately, for a couple of our examples above, there were issues over contracts and agreements.

If you don’t have a detailed, well-written agreement, then you could end up in court for not upholding your end of the deal.

Each partner should agree to every part of the partnership so no one is left disappointed.

5. Executed poorly.

Another reason that a partnership might fail is because it’s executed poorly. If the implementation is misguided, then you could do serious damage to your reputations.

If you’re going to partner with another brand, make sure that both parties are committed to it and will execute the agreement with 100% effort.

So, now that we’ve discussed why brand partnerships might fail, how can you avoid these mistakes?

Avoiding Co-Marketing Mistakes

Co-marketing can be greatly beneficial for both brands if it makes sense and provides value for your audience.

To avoid these mistakes, make sure that you communicate with your partner and consider your customers.

To learn more about co-marketing, check out our ultimate guide.

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