AI Partnerships: Looking Beyond the Creative Unions

By Charlie Wade

There is a huge amount of excitement surrounding the latest marketing fixation, AI, and for good reason. It offers a wealth of opportunity, from simple fact-finding hacks through to content creation, most of which professionals are only just beginning to realize.

Another function, which has featured heavily across social media, is that of using AI to imagine product collaborations. Creators, such as RickDick, are harnessing the power of tools like Midjourney (an image-rendering platform) to visualize possible output between two brands. Even agencies are getting in on the action, imagining brand mashups to generate a reaction from consumers that may or may not be a new means to prime the market. Make no mistake, many of the examples are realistic, bringing labels together to conjure imaginative illustrations, such as Apple AirPods x MSCHF's Big Red Boots or MAC x Ferrari.

Some are taking the process further – for example, the website allows anyone to enter two brands of their choice and the item they want to created – from backpacks to sneakers – and creates a collaboration for them. (Fueling an immediate "I want it now" response.)

However impressive, though, they are a reminder that this simple concoction is formed through the imagination of a single actor. Indeed, the danger of an AI-inspired enterprise is it can lack the true essence and magic of a partnership – insight from brands paired with a hyper-focus on the needs of consumers.

Furthermore, the problem with being led by an image, no matter how dazzling, is that it is akin to starting the process at the end. No matter what the finished article could be, it should be formed via considered involvement from both brands, not least an understanding of their core values and those of their shopper; as well as the value of a partnership to them and their shared audience.

As the hype around modern brand collaborations increases in number each year, it's time to move beyond the headlines to ensure your partnership scores. Here are three things to bear in mind for all our would-be collaborators:

  • Clarity of role: When companies come together, it is vital they clarify their position within the relationship. There are myriad examples where one side seemingly has a stronger voice and thus pushes their agenda, be it their core message or latest campaign. (This can be particularly true of celebrity tie-ups.) To plot a path to success, participants should be clear about what they bring to the party and what they want out of it. This often requires a collaborator to look beyond the pizzazz of a potential partner and think about their own offering and how it dovetails with that of the company across the table.

  • Value to the market: Next, participants must be almost maniacal about identifying the needs of the consumer. To do this effectively parties should answer foundational questions, such as:
    • Can we bring real value to the market?
    • What is the insight or data-point that pre-empted the coming-together?
    • What is in it for the end-user (and why would they care)?
    • Is this meant to be a moment in time or a long-term commitment (how invested should the consumer be)?
    • What is the right channel mix?

While not exhaustive, these are the kind of prompts that any brand should investigate before transitioning into the ideation stage. With them it is possible to end-up with something like Heinz x Absolut (short-term innovation) or Nike x Apple (long-term benefit).

  • Integrate AI: Brands looking to create new products or offerings absolutely could – and should – use AI. Indeed, the visual cues that it provides (at speed) provide a window into what a union could look like. But without thoughtful inputs, like those outlined above, any venture is likely to struggle because parties are starting with the end-product and working back towards justification; an approach that is rarely successful.

Ultimately, any would-be collaborator should remember that AI in its current guise should be used to augment any existing collaboration processes, not replace them.

This is a hugely exciting time for collaborations, which are at an all-time high. To that end, marketers should absolutely leverage AI to enhance the process but also fundamentally rely on their own insight – from data to company culture to consumer preference – to be selective in their choices and to deliver innovation that drives acquisition and affinity.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Charlie Wade is global ED of growth & innovation at VMLY&R Commerce.