A Match Made in Brand Heaven?

by Sonja Prokopec
Professor of Marketing, ESSEC Business School, Asia-Pacific
08 May 2023

The recent collaboration between Nike and Tiffany & Co has generated a lot of buzz in the fashion and branding world. However, this partnership between two contrasting brands has also raised questions about the larger trend of brand collaborations.

In the past, luxury brands have been known for their exclusivity and prestige, carefully guarding their image and reputation. However, we have seen a shift in this approach in recent years, with more luxury brands collaborating with non-luxury brands to reach a wider audience. The Nike x Tiffany collaboration is just the latest example of this trend.

Collaborations like this bridge the gap between luxury and affordability by making high-end products accessible to everyday consumers. By partnering with well-known brands, companies can offer premium products at a lower price point, allowing more people to experience the luxury they once thought was unattainable. This not only benefits the consumers by providing them with more affordable options, but it also benefits the brands by reaching a wider audience. Examples include the Swatch x Omega MoonSwatch and the many collaborations between H&M and designer brands like Moschino and Alexander Wang.


The Must-haves for a Successful Collaboration

However, for a collaboration to truly be successful, it needs to be a win-win for both brands involved. The collaboration must offer tangible benefits to each brand, whether it's through a broader audience reach or a transfer of positive brand image.

The product itself must also be unique, with distinguishable codes that represent the DNA and visual identity of each brand involved. It should not resemble the permanent offerings of either brand, but instead be a distinctive offering that sets itself apart from the competition.

When it comes to pricing, the collaboration needs to be at the same level as the higher-end brand, ensuring that the product retains its exclusivity and desired status. If the price point is too accessible, it could potentially diminish the desirability of the product and dilute the brand's image. With this Air Force 1 release by Nike x Tiffany, the price point of $400 per pair might be considered too low, given that similar collaborations by Air Jordan and Dior were going at almost $2,000.

Does the Nike x Tiffany collaboration meet the criteria of a successful brand collaboration? It appears to be so in terms of audience reach, with Nike gaining access to Tiffany's brand image and reputation, and Tiffany gaining exposure to a wider audience. However, the product itself may not be unique enough to truly represent the DNA and the codes of both brands, and the pricing may not match the higher-end brand to maintain its exclusivity and desired status. In this case, the collaboration could have benefitted from a different product that is more distinctive and exclusive, paired with a better price point that retains the higher-end brand’s desire and image.


A Mismatch in Brand Identity?

From a luxury marketing perspective, the Nike x Tiffany collaboration raises questions about the dilution of luxury brand identity, and rightly so. While collaborations are a popular trend in the fashion and sports world, partnering with non-luxury brands can have a negative impact on the perceived exclusivity and prestige of a luxury brand. In this case, Nike's athletic and sporty image may detract from the elegance and luxury typically associated with Tiffany & Co’s brand image, even if the brand has been trying to appear more edgy and modern with more recent product launches targeting Gen Zs and a collaboration with Supreme.

Furthermore, luxury brands are built on the premise of offering unique and premium products, which are difficult to replicate. By partnering with non-luxury brands, luxury brands risk diluting their image and reputation. This collaboration may also blur the line between luxury and affordability, leading to a devaluation of the luxury brand.

Some examples of successful collaborations include the partnerships of Dior x Rimowa (among many successful Rimowa collaborations) and Supreme x Louis Vuitton. The collaboration between Dior and Rimowa brought together the distinct visual identities and codes of the two brands: Dior's signature brand code and Rimowa's iconic aluminum suitcases. The result was a collection of suitcases that were unique, eye-catching, and true to the DNA of both brands. The product was a hit among both Rimowa and Dior's customers, helping to introduce each brand to new audiences.

"The Nike x Tiffany collaboration may have generated buzz, but it also raised questions about the future of Tiffany’s brand identity in their quest to compete with the other iconic jewelry brands."

The collaboration between Supreme and Louis Vuitton is also a prime example of a win-win collaboration, as Supreme gained access to Louis Vuitton's prestigious brand image, while Louis Vuitton was able to reach a younger and edgier demographic, a direction in which Louis Vuitton was moving. The product itself was a unique and distinct representation of both brands, with the iconic Supreme logo appearing on Louis Vuitton's signature brand codes. As a result, Supreme was able to “premiumize” themselves, while Louis Vuitton gained street cred in the process – the same goes for the Gucci x The North Face collaboration.

On the other hand, an example of an unsuccessful collaboration would be the Gucci x Balenciaga partnership. In this case, the collaboration failed to deliver the must-haves for a successful collaboration, as the product itself was neither unique enough, nor did it represent the distinct visual identity and DNA of both brands. This resulted in a lackluster response from consumers and a missed opportunity for both brands to benefit from the collaboration.


Collaborate with Caution

According to a report by McKinsey & Company, the luxury market is expected to grow at a rate of 4-5% annually, with collaborations playing a significant role in driving this growth.

While collaborations may seem like a good idea, luxury brands need to carefully consider their brand identity and reputation before entering partnerships. The Nike x Tiffany collaboration may have generated buzz, but it also raised questions about the future of Tiffany’s brand identity in their quest to compete with the other iconic jewelry brands like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. It also highlighted the need for luxury brands to be strategic and cautious in their collaboration choices to protect their brand DNA and their reputation.

Luxury brands should prioritize preserving the distinctiveness of their products and brand identity when engaging in collaborations with other brands. This necessitates careful selection of collaboration partners that complement the luxury brand's image, rather than detract from it. The collaborations should add value to the luxury brand's offerings and elevate its reputation, while maintaining a price point that is consistent with its other offerings to avoid any potential loss of exclusivity or prestige.

Ultimately, the key to successful luxury brand collaborations is to strike a balance between maintaining the unique identity of the brand and reaching new audiences. With careful planning and strategic execution, luxury brands can leverage collaborations to drive growth and increase brand awareness while maintaining the prestige of their brand.