Dictionary.com defines co-branding as a "marketing effort or partnership between companies to join forces and use the best technology or content of each and lending both of their brands to the final product."
That sounds a little highfalutin. So let's just say that co-branding describes when brands combine efforts in ways such that they create mutual benefit.
There are several kinds of co-branding, including cause marketing itself.
- Promotional/Sponsorship. This is the category cause marketing falls under. Another example is Fedex’s league-wide sponsorship of the National Football League.
- Ingredient. A recipe in a free-standing insert that includes Hershey chocolate bar and Kraft Marshmallows or Nabisco’s Honey Maid graham crackers.
- Innovation Based. Polar Electro’s heart rate monitors integrated into apparel from Adidas.
- Value-Chain, which is meant to bring new experiences to the consumer, not just another flavor. There are three varieties of value-chain co-branding
- Product Service. Sea World and Southwest Airlines.
- Supplier-Retailer. Starbucks wifi service from AT&T.
- Alliance. They obvious example are the tie-ups between two or more airline carriers.
Co-branding is common and familiar enough that you probably have some other examples in mind.
Less common is co-branding between more than two brands. That's because the more brands you add the more inertia there is to overcome. Co-branding with more than two brands is like a trade between three or more professional sports teams whereby six or eight or ten players change teams. Those deals frequently make the news because everyone understands that they're so hard to put together in a way that satisfies all the parties.
The above promotion found in the Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database is an example of a four-way co-brand; there’s Tag Heuer, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Leonardo DiCaprio, and a Tag Heuer dealer called Joseph-Anthony. I saw this cause marketing activation in an issue of Forbes magazine.
The cause marketing part of this co-branding is that Tag Heuer delivers an unstated donation to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a cause which given his green bona fides was almost certainly Leonardo DiCaprio’s choice.
In exchange, Tag Heuer gets to use DiCaprio’s mug in the ad. Joseph-Anthony likely gets to pay for part of the ad.
The result of this four-way co-brand is probably satisfaction all around.
Joseph-Anthony is happy because there’s no way a small jeweler could have pulled this together in and of itself. DiCaprio’s pleased because he gets a fee for both himself and a favored charity. And, I assume, the Tag Heuer watch of his choice. The Natural Resources Defense Council is glad to be associated with a higher-end corporate brand with no apparent environmental blemishes, while also getting paid. And Tag Heuer satisfies both a dealer and one of the biggest movie stars on the planet.