Infiltrating Culture Through Branded Collaborations: Tips from OREO and HBO



During #SMWNYC, HBO’s Alex Diamond and Justin Parnell, Senior Director, OREO, Mondelez International, talked with 360i’s Dani Calogera about their top tricks to maximize collaborative success.


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Oreo’s recent team-up with GOT has produced some of the cookie makers’ most flavourful and popular snacks ever. During #SMWNYC, Alex Diamond, Director of Program Marketing at HBO, and Justin Parnell, Senior Director, OREO, Mondelez International, talked with 360i’s Dani Calogera about their top tricks to maximize collaborative success.

The eighth season of Game of Thrones is undoubtedly it’s most successful: it spawned twitter’s most-tweeted about TV episode of all time. The premiere episode of the latest series brought in a mega 17.4 million viewers – smashing the previous record of 11 million set by the final episode of The Sopranos in 2009. And despite the two-year break between the penultimate and final seasons, still attracts the attention of its entire fanbase every time it is aired.

The buzz around the show –  the fanaticism and furor – is reaching heights that many TV companies never thought were achievable. It would be a travesty if companies didn’t jump on the hype and benefit from the rage and love around the show – hence why OREO have recently released their own brand of ‘Game of Thrones cookies’. But for that to happen, collaboration has to take place. And for that to happen, an agreement between two companies also has to take place. So, in an age where we’re blinded, and frankly obsessed by social media, how does a good collab really work?

Talk value

While it’s key that you’re in touch with what the consumers want, it’s also vital that you take them aback. Which OREO fan would have been expecting a limited edition Game of Thrones version to pop up on shop shelves? Even so, it’s likely that, given the cultural stature of the programme, many OREO eaters are probably GoT watchers too.  So when the collab was revealed, it was probably random for most people, but it got them talking – because the consumers were going to be talking about, and passionate about GoT anyway.

It may be on a massive scale, but it can work just as well for two smaller brands – if people are talking about it in a cultural way in any form, capitalize on it. That’s the surprise element of it – and coupled with an idea that ‘hasn’t been done before’, or doing something that ‘nobody else can do’ – like printing biscuits with branded designs – is key to creating a winning collaboration.

Parnell explained that OREO’s first thought about who to collaborate with was the way in which it will benefit the brand from a cultural perspective.

‘How do we infiltrate culture?’ he asked. Making sure that people recognize your brand not only as a food product, in this example, but as a phenomenon as well that can be talked about as a separate entity, is key. Sparking conversation, both in real life and on social, and engagement with the product, is of course, what the collaboration is meant to do. That leads to more brand awareness, and subsequently, more sales.

The social aspect

The idea, Parnell said, of a collaboration between OREO and Game of Thrones, is inherently social anyway. It’s going to get people talking. One of the most important thinking strands for OREO was how they leveraged the product, the experience, and the PR and simply amplified it for social. Fuelling conversation throughout the whole campaign was a big yes for both speakers. And brand banter…

Calogera was eager to quiz Parnell and Diamond about brand banter and personification on Twitter. She, as an advertising agent, reckons it’s key to growing a brand. Both Alex and Justin agreed, with Alex, as the GoT man in the building, saying that from their side, most of the brand banter, on Twitter, for example, came from other brands. But for both, the key to good brand banter online was authenticity. If it seems forced, or unnatural, customers won’t buy it – and it may even work against the brand. Pick the brands that you ‘banter’ with carefully – they might be the hit and miss of your online success

A fast response on social is also necessary for it to work well. OREO has a team monitoring social media so they are in a position to respond at the click of a finger if necessary.

‘Courage, agility, risk-taking and speed.’ It might seem like a checklist for a Ninja Warrior competitor, but it’s what Justin lists in reference to the ways in which a good collab work.

An act of devotion

From the GoT side, as the (arguably) bigger brand, it was paramount to Alex and his team that OREO showed how much they were willing to dedicate to the collaboration. By this, he wanted to see evidence that Oreo was going to do something they’d never done before – which they did, by engraining their cookies with GoT designs and, for the first time ever, replacing their cartoon logo with a GoT typeface. Whatever it is that demonstrates the commitment must be authentic and respect the brand in mind.

Both speakers reiterated the idea though, that despite this, the idea was the most important factor in the decision to collaborate. It didn’t matter for OREO about whether the category was TV, radio, print, online, or anything else. It was the fact the GoT was involved that swung the tide. And for them, a GoT-branded OREO cookie, as well as an OREO-themed GoT intro film, was a great idea. It had legs and was accessible for fans of both products.

A final wrap up

Parnell and Diamond left the audience with the following takeaways.

For two brands to work well together, they have to:

  • Be clear on why they should work together
  • Have overlapping values
  • Be able to speak to a wider audience as a result of their collab
  • Create something impactful
  • Share the same vision

And from the agency perspective, if you want to make a collaboration happen, just look inside the box. A brand you already have on board might be perfect for it.

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