Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

How to Choose Business Partners Carefully: Benefits and Drawbacks of Co-Branding

With all of our talk of Virgin Airlines here at QLP, you’d think that we secretly worked for them or something. Rest assured, we aren’t moonlighting for their marketing department! It just so happens they have been in the news quite a bit lately.

Nothing better than breathing in recycled air!

Virgin Airlines is currently in the news because of their latest collaboration with the popular make-up brand, bareMinerals. If you’ve ever traveled by plane, then you know all too well the dreaded dehydration your skin and lips endure. Their new lipstick is infused with “micronized freshwater pearl powder,” which claims to provide much needed hydration to our lips and to alleviate the effects of air pressure changes in the cabin.

Seem random? Well, Virgin Airlines has a new redesigned ‘Upper Class Cabin’ that they’re hoping to promote with this new co-branding effort. Female cabin crew members will wear the lipstick during the first flight to feature the new cabin (an A330 flight from London to New York) and then free samples will be given to the passengers after that.

Good news, though! Even if you have no upcoming plans to travel with Virgin Airlines on the A330 flight, you can purchase the new bareMinerals lipstick at Virgin Atlantic clubhouse spas and through Retail Therapy (Virgin’s in-flight shopping guide) for the low, low price of $24.

Naturally, this got me thinking about other co-branding examples out there and whether this popular marketing strategy is actually effective or not. I found some benefits to this type of arrangement, but there are also some drawbacks that must be taken into account as well.

Benefits of Co-Branding:

The costs of launching a brand new product are less when you add an existing product or brand to the mix instead of creating an entirely new product. Also, a wider range of consumers can be reached since fans have already been found and made. An example is when General Electric and Culligan decided to work together so that GE didn’t have to create a new water filtration system for their refrigerators and Culligan could become more popular in a wider market. See what happens when companies work together?

Now you can get a steak infused with your favorite booze!

T.G.I Friday’s was banking on this same logic when they introduced Jack Daniels inspired menu items. They’re a successful restaurant and Jack Daniels is a very popular whiskey, so both received a boost when the two combined their talents, expertise, and creativity to produce one amazing result.

Loyal fans will follow a brand to the edges of the Earth, no matter where they go. That’s exactly what Best Western was banking on when they united with the iconic motorcycle company, Harley Davidson. Harley enthusiasts need a place to stay when they’re out riding, so why not at Best Western since they have thousands of hotels all over the world? Program participants are given an exclusive reward card that gives them special treatment at their hotels, which competitors won’t offer to them. This partnership makes complete sense to me, and I’m sure the Harley riders really love it, too!

Drawbacks of Co-Branding:

It isn’t 1870 anymore – time for the world to adjust, too!

Not everything is all rosy and wonderful in Co-Branding Land. There are disadvantages that have to be addressed before you make any rash decisions. Just like talents, expertise, and creativity are all shared among the brands, so are potential negative issues.

For example, when Walmart partnered up with Kathie Lee Gifford on a clothing line, things seemed perfect. She was on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee at the time and had a very successful career. But then the walls fell down when it was discovered that children were being employed to make her clothing line. Even though she didn’t have anything to do with the allegations, her name was attached to the clothing line and therefore she faced some very difficult questions (and still does today)!

Also, sometimes the fit between the two companies partnering up is just wrong from the beginning. Sears Holdings seems to have this market cornered. Featuring Martha Stewart branded products in their Kmart stores may have seemed like a great idea since it would bring her products to the masses, but I was shocked at the partnership. When I think of Miss Martha, I think of expensive kitchen gadgets that are only good for one purpose (and I can’t afford or find the ingredient it’s supposed to be used with), not a discount retailer. Apparently I wasn’t the only one.

Land’s End clothing inside of Sears’ stores always surprised me, too. When I think of Sears, I think of tools and paint, not sixty-dollar shirts or eight-dollar shorts for women! Which is why I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I heard news of Sears shopping around to sell Land’s End. Reaching out into new markets is a great way to expand your brand presence, but if it doesn’t make any sense to the consumer, don’t do it!

Deciding to jump on the co-branding bus (sadly, it’s nothing like the ‘Magic Schoolbus’) shouldn’t be done quickly. Sit down and weigh out your options and determine if the risks and drawbacks are worth the benefits. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartbreak later on!

Do you like the idea of two brands partnering up? Can you think of any really good co-branding examples? What about any bad ones? Sound off below!


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Cybernetic SAM

    This is a really good post, Amy! I don’t know much about make-up or co-branding, but after reading this I can’t really say either anymore! I always find it strange when you notice co-branding, it is kind of confusing and awkward at first (like an awkward first date) but then it doesn’t take long to start associating the two together, it is kind of neat. I almost both love and hate this form of marketing. One hand it is convenient and informative, on the other you kind of feel a little force fed. This is probably one of the strongest forms of marketing, because if one of the partnered brands is one you generally are a fan of or look up to, seeing another brand attached to it, it’s almost like your brand is now giving you approval to start latching on to its new counter part.

    • Amy Swanson

      Wow, thank you so much, Sam 🙂 I can’t agree with you more on your comment about initially seeing a co-branding effort as an awkward first date scenario. At first I’m like, “Really? These two together? Alright, we’ll see how long this lasts,” and then I try it and more often than not I really like the new product.

      You’re totally right with it being a strong form of marketing, if not the strongest. You can typically get me to try any new food that is two of my favorite foods or brands combined, like Lay’s ‘K.C. Masterpiece’ BBQ potato chips 😉 Mmmm!

  2. Jaimie Smith

    Amy you did such a great job on this post! It does not seem like it would be an easy topic to cover, but you did it perfect!!

    I had no idea Virgin Airlines and bareMinerals were cobranding together. I am obsessed with bareMinerals make up. (not exactly the cheapest, but such good quality make-up) It is such a random pair, but I hope it works out for them! that is so interesting.
    Thanks for the info, Amy! 🙂

    • Amy Swanson

      Thanks Jaimie! When I first saw the headline I was like, “Really?!” But then I read the article and realized it does make sense for an airline to have a nutrient-enriched lipstick to sell. I do feel that it’s a bit ‘gimmicky’ though, while it’s cool to get one on the plane I don’t know if I’d use it afterward. However, I’d be delighted to be proven wrong, especially if Virgin Airlines footed the bill! (A girl can dream, right? 😉 )

      I’ve never tried bareMinerals before, but I’d like to. Anyone who uses it swears by it, I just wish it wasn’t so expensive!!! Oh well, another blog for another day. Thanks, Jaimie!

  3. Rachel

    Doritos and Taco Bell! I can say from experience that their co-branding efforts taste pretty good. 🙂 Though I’m still holding out for the Cool Ranch-flavored shells …

    The number of co-branding examples out there must be huge — you did a nice job of pointing out many of interesting ones. Great post, Amy!

    • Amy Swanson

      Mmmm, that’s a great (and tasty) example of co-branding, Rachel! Good one!! I’m hoping that a Cool Ranch-flavored shell is next because I also think that would be delicious. Man, thank goodness it’s almost lunch!

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    Co-branding is definitely tricky, but when it’s done right, it makes me happy.

    The best example? DC Converse.

    • Amy Swanson

      That’s an awesome example, Mandy! Those are too fun!!! Thanks so much for showing those off 🙂

  5. Jen

    I think the bareMinerals and Virgin Airlines co-branding is really, really weird. Maybe I’m the only one, but I have never had a problem with my lips drying out on a flight so much that I just can’t wait, and have to buy new “micronized freshwater pearl powder” infused lipstick while on the flight! I can understand that it happens, but to buy new lipstick while on the plane seems a bit much. I think this is way more confusing than the Martha Stewart Collection in K-Mart stores.

    On the other hand, TGI Fridays and Jack Daniels hit the nail on the head with their co-branding! It makes perfect sense to pair them together – a well known liquor and restaurant chain mesh better than a popular makeup brand and airline.

    Great post Amy!

    • Amy Swanson

      I see where they’re coming from with thinking the new partnership being a good idea, but I always have Chapstick with me so I wouldn’t need to buy it while on board. I guess if you didn’t have anything it’d be nice to have their “micronized freshwater pearl powder” lipstick available to buy. Seems a bit gimmicky to me though.

      I just thought about the poor guys on board though. What do they get if their lips get dry and chapped? I don’t many men can pull off this shade 😉

  6. Jeff Porretto

    This is a great topic. I LOVE when competitors join forces. A recent example close to my own heart… Jordan Brand and Converse just collaborated to release a special edition, 30th anniversary, replica set of the shoes and jersey (only 23 made) MJ wore for the his game winning shot in the 1982 National Championship Game for North Carolina – the beginning of the MJ Legend. Though the shoes were made by Converse, they’ll now have jordan logos on the inside as well.

    Of course, all proceeds go to charity, which is the best reason of all for collaborations!

    Thanks Amy!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Basically, any time that shoes do co-branding, it’s awesome. 😀

    • Amy Swanson

      Thanks Jeff 🙂 Your example is awesome, I never knew Jordan Brand and Converse ever partnered up before, let alone for such an awesome cause. Very cool!! Wow!

      • Jeff Porretto

        It was just this past week! Each signed by MJ, all 30 sold on ebay for between $6,000-$8,000 each! That’s about $200,000 for charity!

        Actually very well done:

  7. Jill Tooley

    I really want to take a trip in one of Virgin’s upper class cabins now! Can you imagine how relaxed you’d be? 😀

    I kind of agree with Jen on this one — that co-branding effort between the lipstick and the airline is a bit on the weird side. But maybe that’s just because I’ve never thought of it before. Who knows, if I was actually faced with the opportunity to try a sample and make a purchase while aboard the plane, I might actually do it! Dry lips are no fun for anyone, especially if you’re traveling a long distance. (Or if you were scared to bring along your own lip gloss because of the super strict carry on rules now!)

    I also agree with you in the sense that brands should be SUPER DUPER choosy about who they partner with on efforts like this. One wrong move could send a terrible impression to customers and make sales drop. On the other hand, though, a smart pairing could launch sales even more. Brands just have to take the time to assess all the possible pros and cons before agreeing to things like this. By the way, I always wonder HOW people like Kathie Lee Gifford could not be aware of child labor laws…there doesn’t seem to be much of an excuse there.

    Great post, Amy! 🙂

    • Amy Swanson

      Thanks Jill! Deciding to try a co-branding strategy shouldn’t be something that’s just done on a whim, there’s just too many factors to take into account. If people are desperate enough for something (like something to get rid of dry lips), they’ll sadly pay almost anything for it. I can’t blame Virgin Airlines for trying this strategy, I just wish it didn’t seem so gimmicky.

      The really scary thing with co-branding is that it isn’t just one brand’s reputation on the line, but two! Customers are fickle and if they don’t agree with what brand A is doing then sales of your product together are going to drop and maybe your brand will see some fallout too. Eeek, makes me anxious just thinking about it!

      Glad you liked the post, Jill!

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