Ye and Adidas break up: Why brand marriages sometimes go bad

Brand partnerships between seemingly disparate companies or organizations are all around us.

Clothing retailer H&M partnered with animal rights group PETA in 2021 to launch a vegan fashion collection. FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, and automaker Hyundai agreed in 2022 to run a global campaign that uses soccer to promote sustainability. Meditation app Headspace collaborated with Whole Foods Market in 2021 to create a video series on Instagram’s IGTV video app on mindful shopping, cooking and eating.

The idea of two brands getting hitched for strategic purposes is a quintessential marketing tactic. When done well, the collaboration helps both partners grow their brands and amplify a shared message, such as the idea of animal-friendly clothing in the case of H&M and PETA.

But just like any marriage, it doesn’t always go well.

Recent examples of this are breakups between fashion line Yeezy – owned by rapper and artist Ye, formerly known as Kanye West – and clothing retailers Gap and Adidas. Ye said on Sept. 15, 2022, that he ended his company’s partnership with Gap because the company had “abandoned its contractual obligations.” The New York Times reported that the cited reasons were that Gap had failed to sell Yeezy products in its namesake stores and had not opened new stores specifically to sell them.

Adidas broke off its partnership with Yeezy over Ye’s recent antisemitic remarks.

I’m an assistant professor of marketing who studies user behavior on social media in the context of brand partnerships. Research shows forming partnerships can be valuable for some – but they can also be perilous for others. My recent work on partnerships shows a handy method that companies can use for finding potential collaborators, by analyzing who follows them on Twitter and other social media.

Why companies form branding partnerships?

Brand collaborations are strategic partnerships between two or more brands to boost awareness and increase sales by tapping into the partner’s existing customers.

This whole idea of companies pooling their resources to boost their own unique value is the epitome of a win-win situation – at least in most situations.

Research shows that these types of marketing alliances have a variety of potential benefits, such as increasing a company’s value, bottom line gains and access to new products and skills.

For brand marriages to truly work, both partners need to get something out of the relationship.

For example, in 2015, Starbucks began a collaboration with music streaming service Spotify. Starbucks aimed to add more customers to its loyalty program by adding a Spotify tab to its smartphone app. And Spotify users were able to earn “stars” for free coffee products if they paid for a premium membership.

Both Starbucks and Spotify had something to gain from their partnership.