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Sophia Boudjemaa
| 24TH MAR 2023

Zeno Thinks: Heinz x Absolut: How big brand innovation is being driven by you and me

Brand collaborations are nothing new. So, the announcement of Heinz and Absolut's vodka pasta sauce is no surprise.

The curve ball is that it comes three years after Gigi Hadid’s vodka pasta recipe went viral, sparking thousands of recreations, throwing out the old adage that brands need to hijack cultural trends quickly to maintain relevance.

What partly makes this collab so great is that Heinz and Absolut owned the fact they were “ridiculously late” to the party, proudly embossing it on the sauce’s label to poke fun at their own tardiness. It also reminds us that despite the sauce being inspired by a trend on social media, a mashup of two iconic, highly protected brands, would have required rigorous testing to ensure the final product absolut-ly nailed it (no pun intended).

A few years ago, the way these collaborations came to be, was different. A crazy thought that came to an exec in the middle of the night, or a long-term ambition driven by a CMO’s passion for a streetwear designer. Of course, this was underscored by commercial potential and the opportunity to go into spaces and places they wouldn’t normally have the right to play in. Like ice cream building equity in luxury fashion or soft drinks building beauty credentials.

Now, things are different. Gone are the days of “cool collabs” just because. Real world conversation is not only fuelling culture, it’s informing creative and driving product innovation. We’re using TikTok virality as inspiration for and as a marker of people’s appetite for a cool new tie-up.

Take Pepsi’s recent #Pilk campaign, which tapped into the dirty soda trend for people mixing Pepsi and milk.

Like Heinz & Absolut’s vodka pasta sauce, Pilk is not a new trend and has actually been around since the 1980s when Laverne from Laverne & Shirley drank milk and Coke as a comfort drink. It was in fact, singer Olivia Rodrigo, who brought it to the top of the #fyp again when she posted herself drinking the concoction, sparking recreation after recreation, leading Pepsi to their next innovation. Though it was not so much a marriage of two brands, it was still an unlikely pairing to create a collab of sorts that was borne out of real-world conversation and experimentation.

The exciting thing about all of this, is the knowledge that brands are only a TikTok post (or a few) away from their next innovation. As the saying goes, ideas can come from anywhere and now more than ever, people are in the driving seat. And, while a celebrity or influencer might be the instigators of an idea, it’s every-day people that are keeping the vision alive, proving to the board that “this mashup has legs”.

The collaborate to innovate hype shows no sign of slowing down but while decisions used to be based on ego-driven ideals, they are now often borne out of real-world experiments. This puts the onus on brand owners to leave their egos at the door and create something that is inherently “cool” because people are asking for it.

The question I am left with is, what sauce-ary will be next? 😊