Godiva meets Manolo: Strange-yet rich-bedfellows

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Selling chocolate by linking with a famous shoe maker, or beauty products by tapping a gourmet chocolatier, may not seem like a solid business plan. But companies like Godiva and Estee Lauder, seeking inspiration for ways to grow brands beyond their traditional borders, are increasingly collaborating with experts far afield of their own industries.

Partnerships have always played an important role in many marketers' arsenals. Branding experts predict that unique but synergistic deals-among them Godiva Chocolatier's upcoming Valentine's Day tie to high-end shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, Puma's collaboration with designer Philippe Starck and beauty brand Origins link to chocolate master Jacques Torres-will only grow more popular as a way to drive sales.

"We're going to be seeing a lot more of these types of partnerships as companies switch out of cost-cutting mode and into growth mode and need to generate new, big ideas to further penetrate their own market or reach into new ones," said Dean Crutchfield, principal of New York City-based Wolff Olins.

the `surprise factor'

Naomi Katz, managing director of HL Group, New York, agreed that there have been "more and more partnerships happening in more unexpected ways as companies look to broaden their reach to new audiences." Ms. Katz said that the "surprise factor" of some of these collaborations often helps create the "buzz and intrigue" necessary to help refresh a brand.

For Godiva, the luxury-chocolate division of package-goods behemoth Campbell Soup Co., a tie-in with stiletto magnate Manolo Blahnik for the chocolatier's single biggest selling day of the year-Valentine's Day-helps solidify the fashion image it put forward with the launch last year of its style-savvy "Diva" campaign.

In addition to using Mr. Blahnik as the basis of a January-February promotion in which the grand prize winner receives 52 pairs of shoes along with 52 ballotines of Godiva chocolates, Godiva has also enlisted the celebrity cobbler to design a special Diva shoe. The ruby-red beaded slipper, which will be given to the promotion winner as part of her cache, will be featured in 1/3 page ads adjacent to the Diva image ads in fashion titles including Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. It will also be featured on the famous foot of a soon-to-be-revealed celebrity in order to garner significant publicity on broadcast and in fashion magazines.

"The two brands talk to two of women's greatest passions-chocolate and designer shoes-and the tie-in is an excellent complement to the direction we've taken with our new campaign," said Erica Lapidus, head of PR and promotions at Godiva. Like past Valentine's Day promotional partners such as jeweler Harry Winston and BMW, Mr. Blahnik-whose shoes retail for an average $485-appeals to Godiva's luxury-seeking consumer base, Ms. Lapidus said. Neiman Marcus gift certificates redeemable for $1,940 worth of Manolo Blahniks will be awarded to 100 first-prize winners.

In an age where marketers are hard pressed to reach "over-messaged" consumers more in control than ever, David Polinchock, chief experience officer of New York City-based Brand Experience Lab, says grouping brands together that jointly play to consumers' particular lifestyle interests "provides a great opportunity."

Mr. Polinchock said that, "Unless you're a brand that contains everything, partnering is the only way you can in a good, positive way surround the consumer."

For Puma, moving beyond the sports shoe arena into trendy lifestyle footwear has been accomplished in large part due to strategic collaborations. The efforts, which helped drive a more than fourfold increase in sales between 1997 and 2003, began with a link to fashion designer Jil Sander in 1998, continued with the development of a driving shoe for BMW's Mini Cooper and in 2004 expanded to include a deal with minimalist-design guru Philippe Starck.

Although known primarily for work in architecture and interiors, Mr. Starck-like counterpart Michael Graves, who now designs for Target-has expanded his reach into categories as far-flung as pasta and luggage to lend those products his famously modern sensibility. The Starck Puma collection, which launched in August, taps into that to help further the one-time soccer shoe's luxury lifestyle appeal, using Mr. Starck's upscale reputation to gain acceptance for the line in exclusive high-end boutiques.

Similarly aiming to grow outside its typical bath and body products, Estee Lauder's Origins brand has developed a "guest-editor" program, in which it partners with experts in various fields to develop new products. The strategy began last November with a tie-in to chocolatier Jacques Torres for the launch of Origins' Cocoa Therapy line, which includes five chocolate-based bath and body-care products but also a first-time array of five (soon-to-be six) Origins chocolate bars and two hot-chocolate beverages.

priceless press

"When we wanted to take it a step further and make ingestible products with chocolate, we said, `But we have no credibility making chocolate, who would want to buy it?' So we brought in a partner with that expertise," said Joellen Bradford, VP-global marketing, Origins.

Though the chocolate has sold well, she said, the greatest result of the link with Mr. Torres has been the press the partnership has generated. In addition, Ms. Bradford said, attending chocolate industry trade shows with Mr. Torres helped Origins tap a whole different audience, as it plans to do with its upcoming partnership with natural healing guru Dr. Andrew Weil.

Once again looking to expand beyond its traditional boundaries, this time into dietary supplements among other things, Origins this October will unveil a full lineup of supplements, skin-care products and cosmetics based on Dr. Weil's expertise in medicine and alternative therapies. "Origins has always wanted to promote total health, and the collaboration with Dr. Weil helps us bring that up a notch," Ms. Bradford said.

Sometimes, though, partnerships can be forged for reasons that go beyond business. Paul Frank, the quirky creative director and founder of fashion house Paul Frank Industries, blurted out last year in a board meeting dominated by talk of balance sheets that he "wanted to do something with the [Oscar Mayer] Weinermobile," said Ryan Heuser, the company's co-founder and president.

Just like tie-ins to brands Mr. Frank determines have helped shape American culture, such as John Deere and Barbie, the partnership with the Kraft Foods' 120-year-old processed-meats brand is "less about a calculated business move and more a kitschy creative challenge," Mr. Heuser said. T-shirts, purses and other items bearing the Oscar Mayer trademark and the Weinermobile hit specialty boutiques where Paul Frank is sold this month.

A Kraft spokeswoman said for its part the deal was a good one because, "Oscar Mayer icons have always brought fun and joy to people and that's consistent with Paul Frank's whimsical style." And, of course, it certainly takes the hot dog to places where few weiners have ventured.

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