Note: This text is about the visual and not the commercial aspect of co-branding, which is the more common use of the term.
One of the questions I encounter every day during the magazine design process is how to draft visual treaties between various design systems. For example, you can have an article about financial sector sitting beside an advertisement for a restaurant. It get’s more difficult when it’s two distinct branding systems are sitting side by side. However, no task is more challenging than successfully landing a distinct branding system with its own guidelines on typeface, white space, choice of colour and visual devices (i.e. frames, illustrations, icons or other visual concepts), on a page of a magazine that has its own branding guideline as well as content style guide.
Of course, this sort of conflict does not happen when you are working on an art, a literary or political magazine where only the magazine style guide rules, except for islands of advertisement. But for a business magazine like B2B, which is a blend of various brands, products, and services sitting side by side, you can’t simply dismiss each entity’s identity and dictate the magazine visual style. Each and every of them should have a chance to show their distinct visual identities, along with their message to readers.
Now you have not only different and sometimes contrasting visuals sitting side by side, you have to frame the content within the magazine’s own style. After all, you are not creating a product/services catalog, the magazine’s style guide should encompass and hold all the distinct visual elements like a glue, so readers experience a natural and continuous flow of various stories, advertisement, and features.
From my own experience, one of the most successful approaches in creating the harmony is thinking about how much you can bend the magazine style guides to accommodate the brand it’s hosting. however, at the same time, you should be careful not to sacrifice the host brand. Obviously, this is a one-way road. You can’t expect to bend the guest branding rules to fit the magazine style guide, except the choices of typography. If you change the typography for each brand, the result is a saddle-stitched catalog, not a magazine.
So it’s your magazine’s brand that “wears” the dress of each brand it hosts, but it’s still the magazine brand, and not beyond recognition. I think the most common example these days is how Google co-brands itself with various causes and historical events. I don’t personally like it because I think this is a posturing as a force for good, which is philosophically irrelevant at best, for a publicly-traded company with its main goal of giving more profit to its shareholders. However, at least they are successful in doing so in visual terms.
In issue #120 of B2B Magazine, it hosted RSM on for the cover story and I tried my best to maintain a balance between the branding identity of them and our magazine. Photography is done by me and the photography venue was the courtesy of QT Lounge, Canberra. I would like to thank the fantastic RSM team members for their time and patience and as always thank Tim Benson, our editor for all the support and guidance.