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Aug 10, 2015

Big Ten, Craft Beer and the Power of Co-Branding

We’re based in Big Ten country and for a lot of people here in the Midwest, that means one thing in the fall – college football. But we’re taking a closer look at a recent deal announced last month by the University of Michigan that has our team discussing the power of branding versus trash talking.

The University of Michigan is getting back together with Nike in a deal valued at $169 million. Nike is set to supply uniforms, footwear, apparel and equipment for all 31 varsity athletic teams.

The transition from Adidas gear to Nike officially begins Aug. 2016 and runs through 2027, with an option to extend to 2031. Compare this deal to the University of Notre Dame’s agreement with Under Armour, which was reportedly for ten years and just $90 million.

While the numbers get the most attention, this isn’t just a story about financials. It’s about fans and brands. And for building material manufacturers, a lesson in the power of the co-brand.

After the deal was announced, Wolverine fans took to social media to celebrate the move to Nike, some even claiming the “Adidas curse” was over. The news was so prevalent, that #Nike was the top trending hashtag on Twitter the day the deal was announced.

um nike deal

But the current social buzz seems to also be a direct response from Wolverine fans who have jabbed Adidas on social media for “ugly uniforms.” The two brands were not aligned, and the fans reacted.


So what does this Nike/U of M deal all mean to the average fan or alum? Could be, to prove their fandom, they now have to go out and drop a few hundred bucks on the latest gear, or risk being ostracized by their peers. Relevance to the cohabitating brands? Well, seeing as IMG ranked U of M #3 in gear sales for 2013-14, there’s ample opportunity to garner big money off the backs of the student athletes and the schools they represent. And obviously, the mammoth number of eyeballs that will see the “Swoosh” during televised games, SportsCenter clips and everywhere else not already logoed by McDonald’s and company.

Like everything, branded partnerships continually evolve. Some, like the Nike/University of Michigan deal are mainstream expectations. Other partnerships, like the link developed between Uber and Spotify (link up to your favorite tunes via your Uber app) are a little more interesting. Two distinctly different categories, tied together. Leveraging traits from one another’s brands, elevating their place of relevance among common users and creating a “trusted” source to expand each brand’s business. Undoubtedly, these partnerships are being viewed by many marketers as a new way to energize their fan base and enhance their brands.

People are loyal to brands and coaches are people too, but seldom are they passionate enough about them to be an ambassador. But because college football is so much a part of our fiber, we live and breath our team and wear and display our allegiance with pride.

According to the NY Post, “Athletic Director Jim Hackett said he picked Nike over Adidas and Under Armour after extensive market research, performance evaluations, fan, player and alumni feedback. And, of course, coach Jim Harbaugh had his say in the matter. On just his second day on the job, with Michigan still under contract with Adidas.”

Some people would not necessarily know the brand of day-to-day casual clothing they are wearing, but they know the college they love. However, when you marry a college brand with an apparel contract that demands new and different fashions (yes fashions), the story changes.

Look at University of Notre Dame, one of the most traditional schools in the country. They were with the Champion brand for nearly 50 years; it matched the brand they were emulating. Then along came Adidas, who promised to stretch them, yet stay within the traditional confines of the Notre Dame brand ethos.

Times have changed and the Notre Dame players and fans have progressed. The Fighting Irish recently became Under Armour’s largest partner. Under Armour will help stretch Notre Dame into a more dynamic brand, with new fashions and styles that emulate today’s fan, but you will not see Notre Dame stretch so much that they run the risk of losing their core audience – for example what happened to JCPenny and their re-branding efforts. The moral of the story here is to stick with your brand promise, but be comfortable in being uncomfortable with stretching your brand.

So how do you stretch your brand and keep your customers/fans interested and passionate about your brand promise? For building materials manufacturers, it’s not as easy as sports gear, but if your customers align your brand with their success, they’re more apt to be an ambassador and even play a part in promoting your brand. To expand on that brand promise, look for other companies with a similar ethos and target audience.

Take a look at what working class coveralls brand Carhartt is doing with craft beer. Last fall, Michigan-based companies Carhartt and New Holland Brewing Company rolled out a series of craft beers to celebrate Carhartt’s 125 year anniversary. The companies collaborated from A to Z on the concept, flavors, packaging creative and the distribution. They even partnered on a series of videos and a road show tour from the Detroit to Denver, just in time for the Great American Beer Festival that took place in Denver last October.


The point of the tour was to meet customers and share stories – a great way to connect two like-minded brands with an engaged audience of targeted end users. It also gave the Carhartt brand a breath of fresh air by attaching itself to a younger company. The co-branded beer and tour proved so successful last year, that they’re doing both again this year with a planned kick off Sept. 20th 2015.

New Holland President Brett VanderKamp explains the intrinsic link between the two brands, “Carhartt is the epitome of craftsmanship, the same dedication to hard work and creativity that we admire in farmers, chefs, artists and other brewers – is exactly what you’ll find at Carhartt. They reflect the same devotion to quality raw materials, artisan processes and delivering remarkable results as we do here at New Holland.”

Carhartt’s Vice President of Marketing, Tony Ambroza weighs in, “Not only do we share a home state, but we share a similar mission to serve those who believe in superior craftsmanship, products worth reaching for and experiences that last a lifetime. That’s a powerful place to start a partnership.”

And just like their neighbors up the street, the University of Michigan’s deal with Nike is a powerful like minded partnership. Michigan’s mantra of “Leaders and Best” and Nike’s “Just Do It” coming together signifies a new era for the teams, the fans and both brands.

If you would like to explore possible co-branding opportunities and other ways to refresh your building material brand, contact Interrupt for a capabilities presentation and a tour of our portfolio. We’d love to be part of your team.

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