Nontraditional Brands Break into Retail

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Retail discovery has yet another channel, this time it really is a channel … well actually a streaming service. Experimentation in customer discovery is extending beyond social commerce into the greater media sphere. June 2021 was a busy month for Netflix\’s ecommerce projects. The streaming giant cut the virtual ribbon on The Netflix Store, an outlet for limited edition collections based on Netflix programming. Also in June, the platform debuted the resplendent limited series Halston and launched the adjacent Halston X Netflix eveningwear capsule collection. The gowns and evening caftans, based on the iconic designer\’s archival pieces were available for pre-order in a collaboration between the platform, and the Halston brand. The items are due to arrive in consumer\’s closets in August.

[callout]Collaborative retail brand extensions are nothing new. Hermes is designing auto interiors for Bugatti, and the car company sells the cars. Gucci is designing products with Disney characters.[/callout]


The nascent marketing effort by Netflix is an iteration of a steady progression toward an AI-enhanced film and television-based discovery which gained traction in the late 1990s with the introduction of Sex in the City.  

  • Sarah Jessica Parker\’s Carrie Bradshaw in the original Sex in the City arguably inaugurated the fashion influencer trend (1998-2004).
  • Shazam utilized primitive AI techniques to identify ambient music in 2002 and has now gone mainstream.
  • Circa 2015, AI-based recommendation apps were developed to identify outfits and apparel worn on television, in print, and online.
  • We now buy tagged items from our social media feeds with a single click.

The Media-Retail Hybrid

The influence Sex and the City had on Gen X shoppers reemerged for the millennial generation in the form of Gossip Girls in 2007. The reboot of the show currently streaming on HBO Max performs the same service for Gen Z. Online consignment apparel platform threadUP is selling Gossip Girl-themed boxes in conjunction with the series. The boxes include ten items curated by the show\’s costume designer Eric Daman. Fans choose a Gossip Girl archetype, Upper East Side (preppy/elegant), Lower East Side (trendy/moto-boots), or Brooklyn (oversized chic/ bike shorts). Customers only pay for the items they keep. Erin Wallace, VP of Integrated Marketing for thredUP detailed the project, “With Eric’s stylist eye for the coolest looks and’s massive inventory of millions of secondhand items, we can’t wait to deliver consumers their dream thrifted wardrobe.”

Sneakers have long been a designer canvas. TRR covered the recent Dior-NIKE collaboration here, but Reebok and Universal have designed their own collection as a narrative tool. The shoes, created with die-hard Jurassic Park fans in mind are embellished with insider messaging and clues on both the uppers and soles. An MSN article describes the Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum\’s character) classic leather style, \”There\’s a lot going on with this one. It definitely embraces Ian Malcolm\’s love of chaos. Half of the shoe is his all-black and leather look with a familiar brooch. The other side is… well… chaotic.\”

Brands Are Having Some Fun

Creative brand extensions are not constrained to media. Foodstuffs, from fast-food outlets to CPG brands are designing apparel and accessories. Panera Bread developed a line of swimwear inspired by its iconic broccoli and cheddar soup. The one-piece swimsuits and trunks, available in either solid green emblazed with the word SOUP, or a broccoli and cheddar print quickly sold out. Panera\’s inventory of matching bread-bowl-shaped pool floats for summer-loving soup eaters was quickly depleted.

Fans of Dunkin can marry, declaring their love for both each other and the brand, from proposal to the altar with an assist from Dunkin-emblazoned gear. A groom-to-be can propose wearing his Marry Me Dunkin sweatshirt. If she says yes, the ring bearer can parade down the aisle with a Dunkin branded ring pillow. At the wedding, the groom can wear a Dunkin bow tie, and the bride proceeds down the aisle in a Dunkin veil. Bride and Groom tumblers can be had for drinks at the reception, and for the wedding night, a satin This Bride is Dunkin robe is a must-have for the trousseau.

I could repeat a similar scenario for Taco Bell apparel, but I will leave that to your imagination. Yum! Brands Pizza Hut recently opened The Hut Shop. Adweek interviewed Pizza Hut CMO Lindsay Morgan about the effort, \”We are looking at giving fans experiences that they can only find at Pizza Hut, but it also means broader stuff than great-tasting food, it is about fans expressing love for the brand.\” A quick glance at the site displays a $99.99 tracksuit bearing the familiar red checkered tablecloth, $24.99 checkerboard-soled slides, and gold pizza-slice-shaped necklace decorated with \”Bejeweled Pepperonis\” among the branded offerings.

How Does This Matter?

Retail brand extensions are nothing new. Hermes is designing auto interiors for Bugatti. Gucci is designing products with Disney characters, but you can’t purchase the limited-edition products at Disneyworld. What distinguishes these examples from other co-branded models is the distribution channel. Shopify and its competitors have exploded the traditional barriers to entry that formerly controlled the retail process. Scalable direct-to-consumer sales are now easily established for businesses far removed from retail. While this shift offers fast food providers and CPG brands an opportunity to experiment, brand-build, and create meme-worthy customer engagements, it also gives us a glimpse of the future for media companies.

Advertising-based media is dissolving into a subscription model as streaming services appeal directly to consumers. A sizable swath of brands is delighted to leave the cable bundle behind, preferring to choose how and where to allot their media budgets. Streaming services, particularly Netflix have an intimate knowledge of individual entertainment preferences which can be exploited to product pitches. The AI-based recommendation engine that effectively dishes up your favorite new show week after week may soon pivot to other areas of discretionary spending; this may explain Netflix\’s expansion into direct-to-consumer retail.

Retailers should not reflexively dismiss media\’s encroachment into their territory as a momentary fad. You might think that, but not so long ago, very few retail strategists lost sleep over a small online bookseller from Seattle expanding into general merchandise. While CPG and other brands may be having some fun in retail, media companies could be playing for keeps. Heads up!



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