Backdrop and the art of collaboration Curveball

In a market oversaturated with capsule collections, special editions, and surprise drops, it takes a lot for a jaded publisher to do a double take when releasing a new product. But that’s precisely what happened last year when paint brand D2C Backdrop announced the release of a collaboration with, of all partners, Dunkin’ Donuts. The mini collection, a bright pink and bright orange, raised a few eyebrows. Then all of a sudden it was everywhere, from Beautiful house at Food & Wine on television late at night. Within a week he was exhausted.

Working with Dunkin’ wasn’t the first time Backdrop produced an eye-catching collaboration, nor would it be the last. In 2020, the brand created incredibly vibrant shades with New York design destination Coming Soon, and last week Backdrop launched another unexpected partnership, this time working with Madewell to produce both a signature shade ( “Studio Hours”, a rosy beige) and a capsule collection of clothing, including overalls and socks.

Founded in 2018 by the husband and wife team of Caleb and Natalie EbelBackdrop has quickly established itself in a unique position in the home industry as a stable provider of what you might call the Curveball collaboration, a union between brands that doesn’t make sense, does it?

WTF partnerships are not an entirely new phenomenon. For decades, the concept of two brands coming together to become more than the sum of their parts has been a reliable marketing game. But in recent years, we have entered the baroque era of brand collaborations, a time when only the most unexpected pairings can shake consumers out of their torpor. Gucci x North Face. Supreme x Hastens. Nike x Ben & Jerry’s (yes, that’s right). The list continues.

Goofy collaborations are pretty rare in the original world, though. It’s partly structural. Furniture is expensive to manufacture and distribute – it’s hard to imagine Ligne Roset launching 5,000 special-edition Togo x Snickers sofas on the whim of an enthusiastic marketing manager.

Culture also plays a role. Home as an industry is more reserved than categories like fashion, food and entertainment. As a result, the brandscape is slightly toned down. It’s almost a cliché to see mainstream brands engage in goofy stunts and even squabbles (who can forget that Wendy’s put out an entire book mix tape diss tracks aimed at McDonald’s and Burger King?), but you don’t see CB2’s Twitter account dabbling on West Elm’s.

Natalie Ebel, co-founder of Backdrop, is responsible for the brand’s unorthodox partnerships Courtesy of Backdrop

So far, Backdrop has turned down all offers to collaborate with designers and other homeworld brands, though Natalie Ebel, who oversees Backdrop’s collaborations, says it’s nothing personal. “If we only partner with other house brands, you’re talking to the same island group of people all the time,” she says. “We get a ton of collaboration requests that fall into the category, even designers wanting to collaborate. I’m flattered by that, but I think some of them almost make too much sense… We’re looking for creative ways to show up in unexpected places and grab people’s attention.

That, of course, is the point of brand collaborations: to generate a bit of buzz, create something interesting, and attract new eyeballs. You can definitely make money with them – Madewell’s tint is currently one of the best selling Backdrops – but that’s not the main focus. “The best partnerships aren’t driven by revenue,” says Ebel. “We can sell a ton of paint on our own, but how do we reach new audiences? »

There is a risk for the Curveball collaboration. Venturing into the unexpected sometimes takes brands a bit too far, and you end up with something less than the sum of its parts, more kitsch than avant-garde. “It’s a very fine line,” Ebel acknowledges.

Execution matters. It’s tempting to think of these collaborations as simply “Brand A x Brand Z,” but what comes out of the team matters. The Madewell collaboration is loyal to both brands. The hue itself, a muted taupe, has the vibe of a millennial pink left to bake in the sun. It’s no exaggeration to imagine it on the walls of an artsy bungalow, or worn as a chore coat by the nimble creatives who live there.

The Dunkin’ drop was, both in concept and execution, more playful, but the marketing campaign is dynamic and gripping. It was largely directed by Ebel herself, who made good use of a shipment of 200 donuts provided for filming. (Fun fact: Dunkin’s brand book has very specific rules about how many sprinkles each photographed donut should have.) Some of the images that emerged from the campaign are Backdrop’s most popular social media content.

To the left: Backdrop’s most recent brand collaboration with Madewell includes apparel as well as a new paint shade. Courtesy of Backdrop | To the right: Backdrop x Madewell chose a neutral colourway for its collaboration with the brand. Courtesy of Backdrop

It’s fair to say that a paint company partnering with a donut chain fell on the wrong side of the edgy/kitsch division for some, especially watchers in the more stuffy parts of the home industry. But in an island world, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to be 2% more sophisticated than the brand next door and forget that for most companies, the real opportunity is to make the pie bigger, and not to throw it away with its neighbor for a very small part. . When Backdrop released the Dunkin’ collaboration, jimmy fallon didn’t care The show tonight“This is for anyone who’s ever walked into a Dunkin’ Donuts and thought, ‘I want to live here!’ — but the mention reached millions. So who’s laughing now?

“When Caleb and I [started Backdrop], yes, we wanted to make painting a design buy, but we didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously. said Ebel. “If Jimmy Fallon wants to make fun of us, that’s fine. And if he wants to do it again, I’m totally okay with that too.

If you can bear the risk of a little chuckle here and there, outside collaborations are mostly positive. Expect to see more of these at home over the coming years, though they may not all be as lively as Backdrop’s. Ebel says the brand is inundated with requests (Dunkin’ and Madewell were inbound) and plans to release new drops at the rate of two per year, with “a big one” already locked in for fall 2022.

“The best brand collaborations are really hard to replicate, because they separate being really nerdy from being really smart,” she says. “If I have the reaction of, I have tell someone immediately – these are the opportunities we pursue.

Front page photo: An image of the Backdrop x Dunkin’ paint collaboration. | Courtesy of Backdrop

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