Brand Strategy Brand Partnerships Greggs

Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari is a branding mismatch made in heaven

By Nick Rees, Chief Creative Officer & Partner



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February 20, 2024 | 7 min read

Lewis Hamilton's move to Ferrari made for an uncomfortable brand partnership for Nick Rees at Bulletproof. But then he realized that was its genius.

A close-up of a Ferrari badge against a Ferrari red background

Lewis Hamilton's partnership with Ferrari contains an intriguing element of mismatch, says Nick Rees / Krzysztof Hepner via Unsplash

Let it be said that I am no fan of F1, which seems to separate me from an ever-growing crowd these days. However, I do have a brother who has worked for McLaren for over 20 years. I recall a period of particular joy for him when a very young Lewis Hamilton emerged under the tutelage of McClaren Group's former owner Sir Ron Dennis. It was a special time as it felt that McLaren had reared this particular talent.

Hamilton hit all the right notes. He was a massive stickler for detail and precision, present in the way he drove, conducted himself publicly, and even shaved his hair. He had a touch of glamour, but ultimately just enough. And the partnership seemed set for life. Five years later, with Ron gone, the marriage broke down and Lewis was off to Mercedes. The brand and Lewis seemed to be an equally sound match.

Does the perfect brand partnership exist?

The news of Lewis now moving to Ferrari has my mind, literally, racing. As part of my day job helping to lead a large global independent brand agency, I’m exposed to the many facets of brand communication. One area that fascinates me, in particular, is brand partnerships. The eternal question for me is whether there is a formula for the perfect partnership. Great agencies will do their best to ideate after being presented with a brief. However, the real alchemy seems often to come at the very genesis of the partnership.

When I looked at Hamilton and Ferrari for the first time, I balked. I am so used to seeing him wear the Mercedes colors and being embedded in a certain culture that I struggled to understand how he could represent the ethereal presence of Ferrari.

A wrong choice can of course damage both partners. Some partnerships have left me cold. The Billie Eilish x Amazon Echo collaboration connected dots on paper yet felt tone-deaf. It created a certain amount of buzz but ultimately fans questioned the partnership's legitimacy and the campaign became a target of the meme brigade, for the wrong reasons.

A mismatch made in heaven

When considering Ferrari, many archetypal Italian traits may come to mind. The truth is that Ferrari often has contributed to some of these cliches. Art, beauty, and elegance all mixed with a heart-over-head inclination to take risks in the moment. A depth of history that can feel vast, along with a swagger and confidence that is unmistakably individual.

On paper, Hamilton has a lot of necessary traits for the partnership to work. The most obvious is that he’s a winner. However, he has also taken risks and at times even been reckless. I feel also there is a mismatch in the pairing.

Yet the surprising thing, I feel, is that this tension is one flecked with excitement. The partnership piqued my non-F1-loving interest and drew me into wanting to know more. That's good because both parts of this partnership need excitement around their brands as much as they need racetrack victory.

There's also the question of supporting brands. I’m interested to see how Shell, watchmaker Richard Mille, and other sponsors will approach the partnership. Money, of course, drives the show; however, I’m sure Hamilton’s main focus will be on gaining iconic status with an elusive eighth title, which will see him supersede Schumacher on paper. Ferrari – already iconic – has a little more to lose.

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A shock to the system

In the wider world of consumer brands, I can see that we are near a state of ‘so what? when it comes to collaborations. A ‘collab coma’ where it’s expected behavior for brands to team up with other likely entities. Therefore the reason behind the collaboration, the ‘why', feels ever more important.

Maybe I’m reaching. But I think that the infinite-scroll nature of today's culture means partnerships need to deliver an ever-increasingly seismic jolt to consumers.

A mismatch that sparked my attention recently was Greggs x Fenwick, which resulted in a couple of brilliant activations such as the ‘fancy’ bistro experience that brought us the ‘Greggs Benedict’. At first, an odd and unexpected pairing, but with an apparent humorous and commercial benefit for both brands. Perfect!

The power of these mismatches, and the surprising ‘tension’ they hold, shouldn't be ignored. If you select a partner based on brand meaning and suitability alone, you may find yourself in an unrewarding relationship with no spark.

If you dig deeper into more unexpected, provocative, and dare I say risky partnerships, you potentially can steal headlines and broaden your audience. With the age of the ‘perfect partnership’ over, and more brands pushing the boundaries on unexpected mismatches, the question is – how far is too far?

Let’s hope nobody veers off track.

Brand Strategy Brand Partnerships Greggs

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Bulletproof is a brand agency with studios in London, New York, Singapore, Amsterdam, Sydney, Shanghai and Melbourne. Proudly independent, we exist to vanquish mediocrity...

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