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Pretty Little Thing Brand Strategy Brand Collaboration

Why Krispy Kreme jumped at the chance to collab with PrettyLittleThing

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By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

March 25, 2024 | 10 min read

We catch up with chief customer officer Emma Colquhoun to hear all about how the glazed donut company is looking to regain relevance through brand collaborations and a flagship Oxford Street store.

Box of 12 PrettyLittleThing and Krispy Kreme donuts

Krispy Kreme's get PrettyLittleThing unicorn on its donuts / Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme has forged an unlikely partnership with fast fashion retailer PrettyLittleThing to sell hot pink unicorn donuts that nod at the Gen Z brand’s logo. Its chief customer officer, Emma Colquhoun, tells The Drum that behind the partnership is a bigger strategy to invigorate the brand.

“Maybe we are a little bit less exciting than before,” she says. “Customers are demanding and their expectations are increasing all the time. Your benchmark isn’t just your category; it’s their best experience wherever it is. We need to work harder to be exciting.”

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As of March 2024, Krispy Kreme is known by 90% of the UK population but is only popular with 47%, according to YouGov data. When it entered the UK market 21 years ago, it was a unique donut, but nowadays, the business is staving off competition from the likes of Doughnut Time, Crosstown and Dunkin Donuts. “They are small in terms of sales but in terms of share of mind of excitement and innovation. We have to up our game to compete with the competition in our market.”

So when PrettyLittleThing approached Krispy Kreme for a collaboration, Colquhoun jumped at the opportunity.

“Krispy Kreme is looking to build and strengthen its brand relevancy with the Gen Z audience and that is the heartland of PrettyLittleThing audience,” she explains. Pretty Little Thing’s Instagram page boasts 18 million followers, 3 million on TikTok and half a million YouTube subscribers. “You have to admire PrettyLittleThing’s social following.”

Colquhoun shares that the PrettyLittleThing team helped push Krispy Kreme out of its comfort zone on its social channels. The creative is bright pink, cartoonish and more surreal than Krispy Kreme’s previous posts.

The partnership is Krispy Kreme UK’s most integrated yet, not only selling PrettyLittleThing’s branded donuts and the YouTube series but also adding discount codes to the fashion site and a tie-up in Krispy Kreme’s loyalty program.

The two brands have also teamed up to produce a long-form YouTube series presented by former Love Island contestant Indiyah Polack. The dating show, ‘Pretty Little Fling,’ tries to match-make couples over donuts.

One week in, Krispy Kreme has already seen a jump in social conversations about the brand and an increase in in-store footfall. However, sales haven’t been as strong in Krispy Kreme’s grocery locations. “We’ve learned that it’s maybe partnerships aren’t relevant in every channel. When you’re super targeted at a particular audience, but you’re a mainstream available brand, it’s not always the perfect pairing in every single channel.” With Colquhoun teasing that there are more brand collaborations to drop this year, this will be a lesson to take into them.

Krispy Kreme is hedging its bets on brand deals to increase its relevance among younger people. Colquhoun admits that as an older brand in the UK market, it has lost penetration among the 18 to 24 demographics and is collecting more 45+ shoppers.

Krispy Kreme gets an Oxford Street flagship

Last month, Krispy Kreme opened its doors on Oxford Street to serve freshly baked donuts hot off the production line. While it has 140 UK stores and is in 1,650 grocery store and service station sites, its Oxford Street “hot light“ is a first of its kind.

Along with donuts, the store sells milkshakes, hot drinks and Krispy Kreme merchandise and has an influencer content studio above the shop floor. “We’ve been waiting for a statement piece in London. If you have a hot original glaze off the line, it is a melt-in-the-mouth cloud experience; people remember their first experience of a hot original glazed doughnut. It’s so distinctive so I guess that ties to my point earlier in terms of standing out from the competition.” There are plans in the works to expand the concept to other key cities.

Krispy Kreme’s growth plans

An average person buys two-and-a-half Krispy Kreme donuts a year, so Colquhoun’s job is to find ways to increase the number of times people buy a donut. The way she plans to do this is by getting the brand famous for more occasions. The biggest sales weeks of the year are valentines, Halloween and Christmas, but life moments like birthdays are a “huge opportunity.”

Building on Krispy Kreme’s loyalty program is the other key objective. Today’s modern-day marketing is very much about personalization at scale, she says. “Our loyalty program is a big, big part of our sustainable, successful growth over the next few years; we have a very strong points-based program.” The business is investing further in personalized communications, for example, moving beyond email to push notifications based on location.

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One key problem with the loyalty program is that points can be gained in third-party retailers that stock Krispy Kreme, but customers can’t redeem points in those retailers. Since two-thirds of Krispy Kreme customers first meet the brand in the grocery environment, this is a major problem for Colquhoun to find a solution.

Speaking of the work she has ahead of her, she adds: “You just must stay relevant and it’s a challenge in this market and this environment. You must work harder and faster and spend less money doing it as a marketer.”

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