From competition to collaboration: brands coming together to create positive change in the face of societal challenges

From competition to collaboration: brands coming together to create positive change in the face of societal challenges


By Cat Davis, Group Marketing Director, MISSION Group and krow Group

During times of great challenge or hardship it’s not unusual to hear stories of rivals, or even enemies coming together to defeat a common foe or overcome a shared threat. Whether this be unfriendly neighbours working together to combat local crime, or ideologically opposed political parties uniting in the face of a serious threat to the nation.

In the fiercely competitive world of business, these tales of collaboration for the greater good are reserved for only the most exceptional of circumstances. In 2020 these circumstances presented themselves in the form of a global pandemic, and what followed was a slew of previously unimaginable partnerships formed by competitor brands with the aim of tackling the challenges arising as a result of COVID-19.

Global pharmaceutical giants Sanofi and GSK are perhaps one of the most obvious examples, joining forces in the early days of the health crisis to attempt to rapidly produce and bring to market an affordable and safe vaccine for COVID-19. Then there’s tech rivals Apple and Google, who provided the necessary technology to make the virus contact tracing app viable across all mobile devices. In India leading soap brand Lifebuoy even launched a public service advertising campaign urging people to buy and use whichever soap brand they have access to in order to protect against the virus – the ad began with the words ‘this is not an ad for Lifebuoy’.

While there are obvious reputational benefits of marketing these shared initiatives to consumers, and proving a willingness to work together to keep people safe, it remains to be seen whether this trend for collaboration will remain once the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

With this in mind, I spoke to MISSION Agency leaders about the collaborations they had been inspired by so far and those they believe could make the greatest difference to us all in the future.

Sam Bettis, Social Media Director, krow Group

The fake news epidemic we currently face is an issue which is calling for large digital brands to put aside their differences and come together to drive a positive shift. The ultimate brand collaboration I would love to see would be for major digital platforms to unite to tackle this.

Research from the University of East Anglia has revealed that if we could reduce the volume of false information being circulated around a disease outbreak by 10% then the influence of incorrect advice would be reduced significantly. Facebook, Google, Twitter and other platforms are individually continually making efforts to stop the spread through policy updates, machine learning and UX improvements – however despite years of effort and advancements, we can’t make it go away. With 40% of UK currently believing a conspiracy theory, it feels like we’re fighting the impossible battle – but, surely we’d have a better chance to win if we fought together.

As leaders in the digital attention economy – all of these platforms should take responsibility for trying to rescue the world from the fake news epidemic, and now it’s time to seize the huge opportunity collaboration opens up. Collaboration in the fight against fake news could lead to some standardised and open source elements making digital platforms safer, such as:

  • Standardised UX elements – meaning we don’t have to ‘re-learn’ what to spot when moving to different platforms
  • Shared policies – kept up to date by a committee who monitor key changes which need to be taken on board
  • One AI – collaborating on a shared AI platform helps make a more powerful algorithm which can be open-sourced making digital better for all
  • Diversity – a larger committee of leaders shaping digital experiences coming from different backgrounds, and platform objectives helps us shape a better experience

If there’s ever time to come together and do something great – this is it!

Kate Cox, CEO, Bray Leino

COVID-19 has encouraged a sense of bonding for the common good. It’s as though a mortal threat has reminded us of our humanity, and there’s real power in the simplicity of any collaboration which centres on human need.

It's something we’ve seen first-hand at Bray Leino in recent months. We were honoured to develop the brand identity for Life Lines – a communications system allowing hospitalised COVID-19 patients to talk to loved ones via video link. The mammoth project was turned around in a matter of weeks, and it couldn’t have happened had rival telecoms companies not mobilised around a very human, very pressing, shared purpose.

We see this human focus elsewhere too – In Germany, for example, under capacity McDonald’s staff were loaned to overwhelmed Aldi. And, faced with a significant drop in donations, many charities are coming together to effect organisational changes through a shared services/admin solution.

In the spirit of collaboration for human need, it would be great to see simple changes, like the milkman delivering the paper to elderly residents; wedding venues loaning marquees to pubs, to help with space. In terms of ultimate rival collaboration, and in the spirit of simplicity, wouldn’t we all like to see mobile phone brands come together to create a universal charger?

As long as there’s a common enemy in the form of COVID-19, and it makes commercial sense, there is huge potential for more collaborations between rival brands. This form of collaboration also brings with it unique challenges for marketers that can help push us all to new levels of creativity. As ever, the key is to hold on to our humanity.