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Getting Started With Cooperative Advertising: A Beginner’s Guide

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Phil Grossman

13 Mar, 2020

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If your marketing is in a rut or in need of a higher gear, you may want to consider partnering with another brand for some cooperative advertising. 

In short, co-op advertising is a way to reduce advertising costs, expose your brand to new audiences, and share the joy of success with another brand. In this brief guide, we’re going to go over the basics of co-op advertising: what is it? What are the pros and cons? And how can you get started? Plus, we’ll give you a couple of examples of brands that are doing cooperative advertising the right way. 

What is co-op advertising?

Co-op advertising is exactly what it sounds like: two brands working together to build out an advertising campaign. This could be a one-off situation, such as a single ad or piece of content, or it could be a long-term partnership in which you support each other for years. 

Cooperative advertising isn’t confined to any one medium. You can run co-op ads on traditional media, like TV, radio, or print, or on digital or social media. Basically, the sky’s the limit. 

No matter how your partnership manifests itself, the key is that it gets your brand “out of the house,” so to speak, and mingling with others. While that clearly has its upsides, there are also some disadvantages to that. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of joining forces with another brand for your advertising campaigns. 

Advantages of co-op advertising

Let’s start out with some of the benefits of cooperative advertising.

  • Easier on the wallet: When you work with another brand on your marketing and advertising efforts, you’ll generally split the bill. For small businesses who aren’t rolling in money, that can be a major help. Plus, you can sometimes get more bang for your buck too by exposing your brand to two audiences at the same time: yours and your partner’s.
  • Increased exposure: Co-op advertising can help increase your exposure and brand awareness in two ways. First, when you save money on your advertising costs, you can push the ad on more channels. Second, depending on what type of marketing campaign you’re running, you have both your audience and your partner’s audience built-in. So, if you’re hiring someone to craft some organic content that will be syndicated on both your website and your partner’s site, you’ll get two audiences for the cost of one. 
  • Two heads are better than one: It may be cliche, but it’s true. When two marketing teams work together, they can often come up with campaigns that neither would have thought of on their own. Sometimes, those can be wildly successful. 

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Disadvantages of co-op advertising

Here’s a quick look at the not-so-fun side of co-op advertising:

  • Compromise is necessary: Whenever you work with someone else, you’re likely going to have to make some compromises, and that can be hard — just think of all the bands that broke up due to creative differences (Nike and Amazon, anyone?). Working together is tough, and making concessions when your partner disagrees with the direction of the campaign isn’t easy. In fact, sometimes your partner will be flat out wrong, but other times you’ll be the one making the fumbles. It can even out, but there’s always the risk that your partnership ends up being one big lesson without any real tangible results. 
  • Sharing the spotlight: When things go well, you and your partner will be sharing in the joy of success. But there’s also the risk that one brand will overshadow the other, and that means you could end up putting in a lot of effort just to barely get noticed while your partner steals the spotlight. Remember, in a co-op advertising campaign, you need your audience to remember two brands, not just one. That can be a significantly harder task.
  • Poor partner selection: Luckily, some of the biggest problems that come along with co-op advertising can be avoided by simply picking the right partner. If you don’t partner with a brand that has some audience overlap, you can find yourself at a standstill, not knowing how to move forward to appeal to both brands. To drive home this point: just think about how hard it could be for a sock brand called Men’s Choice to advertise with a shampoo brand called Just For Women. 

Getting started with cooperative advertising

If you’ve decided you want to brave the harsh but (often) fruitful waters of co-op advertising, here are a few ways to get started. Overall, there are two ways to get involved with the tactic: through long-term partnerships, and short-term campaigns. Here’s a bit about each of them.

Start a long-term co-op advertising program

When you start a co-op advertising program, you’re committing to the long haul. Generally, this means getting involved in a long-term partnership with another brand (or multiple brands). For example, Coke and McDonalds have been working together for years, and it’s gotten to the point that it’s hard to see a McDonald’s ad that doesn’t feature a big ol’ cup of Coke. 

Alternatively, this could mean setting up an internal department that’s constantly seeking out new co-op opportunities. Clearly, this represents a significant investment. 

Pros

  • Long-term relationship: Most things in life are a marathon, not a sprint. When you enter a long-term relationship with a brand, you have a lot more time to grow with them, learn what works, what doesn’t, and to build successful campaigns. 
  • Getting into the flow: When you work with a partner long-term, both brands eventually get into a flow with each other, and that means you don’t need to constantly reinvent the wheel for every campaign you do. 

Cons

  • Bigger commitment: While you can almost always cancel a partnership at any time (unless your contract states otherwise), it’s always harder to extricate yourself from something that’s been established over a longer period of time. Plus, if you’ve set up a department or hired someone to deal with your co-op initiatives, you’ll already have invested a significant amount of time and money into their employment. 

Build one-off co-op advertising campaigns

Not every partnership needs to be forever. If you want to get your feet wet with co-operative marketing, but don’t want the commitment that comes with establishing an internal department or singing a long-term contract, running a single ad campaign with another brand is a great way to get started. 

Pros

  • Test the waters: Co-op advertising isn’t right for every brand, and building a one-off campaign with another brand gives you the freedom to test whether it’s right for your brand without committing a lot of time or money to it. If it doesn’t get you the results you wanted, or you simply don’t like the process, you can move on with minimal (if any) losses. 
  • Every partnership is a new opportunity: Every brand brings something different to the table and partnering with different brands gives you the opportunity to get creative with each one. Sometimes, it can be hard to come up with new marketing ideas for a partner you’ve seemingly exhausted your best ideas with, but every new brand partner brings their own unique identity to the drawing board.

Cons

  • Longer startup time: One-off partnerships don’t have the same established systems in place, and that means that you’re going to need to learn how your partner works every time you run a campaign with them. Unlike long-term partnerships, it’s harder to get in synch and in the flow.

Cooperative advertising examples

Enough talk. Let’s take a look at some examples of co-op advertising campaigns that exist out in the real world and see what makes them tick.

Hippeas, Hope, and Bai

The chickpea puff brand, Hippeas, partnered with hummus brand, Hope, and drink makers, Bai, for a one-off giveaway of their products. While these brands don’t work together on the regular, this campaign was able to extend each of their respective reaches to audiences that may have never heard of them. 

The key to this campaign’s success was the audience overlap. Each of these brands makes plant-based food and drinks. In fact, Hippeas and Hope both use chickpeas as their main ingredient, so it’s highly likely that Hippeas fans would be interested in trying another tasty chickpea treat. And once they’re full, it’s more than likely that they’ll need to wash it down with a cold drink — that’s where Bai comes in. 

By working together, these brands were able to make an impression on more people than they would have on their own.

Starbucks and Shopify

When it comes to long-term partnerships, few brands have it down to a science like Starbucks and Spotify. Customers who have a subscription to Spotify are able to earn Starbucks rewards points and can also influence each store’s on-premise playlist. This encourages Starbucks customers to come into the store to make a playlist, and to continue listening to it on Spotify once they leave. 

At the end of the day, co-op advertising is an exciting way to collaborate with other brands. By putting your heads together, you can often help propel each other into success. 

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