Piggyback Marketing

The Perks & Perils of Piggyback Marketing

Piggyback Rides, Jump Rope, Bikes and Hide & Seek! Stirs up some childhood memories doesn’t it? What in the heck does piggybacking have to do with marketing? That’s serious business, you say! Simply put, Piggyback Marketing is a term used to define a type of marketing strategy.

To elaborate, Piggyback Marketing is where one company takes another company’s very successful marketing, advertising or branding strategy and references it within their own marketing content. The more formal definition: a low cost market entry strategy in which two or more firms represent one another’s complementary (but non-competing) products in their respective markets.

An example is the old tagline “got milk?“. Ever since Jeff Goodby of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners scrawled “got milk?” on a poster board in a meeting, we’ve seen junk, donuts, wine and Jesus emblazoned in the familiar typeface of “got ____?”.

Indeed, some of these original campaigns and brands have become such household names that some companies are not even aware that they are piggyback advertising, only that it’s “familiar and successful”. I say; awareness is power, so let’s look at the ups and downs of the piggyback approach:


  1. Recognition. Ah yes! Your audience is already familiar. And chances are they have laughed, built trust, or the ads have already evoked some positive emotion from them that will motivate buying behavior. Getting quick recognition and being seen as a company that is smart, witty or trustworthy is a positive thing for your brand.
  2. Connotation. You recognized right away – that ad is perfect for your company! Plus, you came up with a great idea to make it relevant to your marketing strategy. Tie it in with a unique twist for your product offering and … wah-la! – you are a smarter, hipper, savvier brand.
  3. Cost. You do not have to start from scratch. The core concept has already been developed, the tone, the emotion, the “hit”… it’s all there. Just create your spin off, design and send to press. Translation: great value.
  4. Gets You There… Fast! A result of all of the above. The first company has already blazed the trail, anticipated the potholes and dangerous curves en route. You let them take you on the ride, without burning your own gas.
Mr. SquarePants Will See You Now, SpongeBob nails Piggyback Marketing

SpongeBob: Sponge Out of Water

“Fifty Shades of Grey” piggyback ad gave parents something to snicker about while keeping it clean for the kids.

The Perils

With all this awesomeness going on, how can piggyback marketing be a bad thing? Let’s consider these points:

  1. The Death of Distinction. Every company and product has an identity, a personality or character, based on values, thoughts and emotions, just like individuals. When you incorporate piggyback ads, you risk giving up your company’s identity for another’s. Company brands can end up with inappropriate ad campaigns or a loss of core identity. Worse, a poorly done piggyback ad can create negative connotations such as a lack of caring, laziness, or low integrity, none of which inspire brand loyalty.

    A truly effective piggyback ad does not simply swap out company or product names. There must be an element of your unique brand emerging from the ad, whether pronounced or subtle. Take for instance, SpongeBob – dry humour is already established in the cartoon’s content and brand. The tongue in cheek piggyback ad above is an obvious spinoff of Fifty Shades of Grey, but the humour is 100% SpongeBob! Choose your inferences well, consider your brand, and gear your ad campaigns accordingly.
  2. Legal. Copyrights and trademarks can be applied to logos, slogans, taglines, typeface, product names, even ad layouts… the list goes on. A branding and graphics professional knows how to incorporate recognition in graphic ad layout, without creating an exact duplicate of the original ad. Also, to reduce possible liability, make sure you are a non-competing company, as in the formal definition at the beginning of this article. Investing some time in research means saving face… and money!
  3. Bumpy Rides. Most companies will only use spinoff advertising when these campaigns have become so successful that the products have become household names. The company has seen great success and you want to benefit from the trickle-down effect. But when you jump in the back seat, you are letting someone else determine the direction. You will be riding the ups and downs of the company’s success or failure, good or bad reputation, and it will reflect on your company, positive or negative.
  4. There’s a Best Before Date. There is a limit to how long the weight can be carried, before it just gets tiring! Seriously, it will go stale and it won’t be funny, cute or witty anymore. Do we really need to see even one more “got ____?” ad splashed across a truck? Recognize when the opportunity’s life span has expired. Drink it up before it goes sour.

Get a fresh look in your online and offline advertising! Whether you want to explore piggyback marketing or something truly unique, contact us and bring your brand to life.

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