Sweet Synergy or Something Else? Parsing Android’s KitKat Deal

Google drew both plaudits and confused reactions this week when it decided to try out a cobranded marketing approach married to a candy bar. Sure, it'll draw attention to the company---but is it the right kind?

Google has a serious sweet tooth—and it even extends to its marketing.

Earlier this week, we pointed out how Google was trying to improve the health of its workers by hiding away the M&Ms, but now the company is giving chocolate a higher profile, with the help of an unprecedented marketing deal with a candy bar company. As you can see below, even Taiwanese animators can spot a trend:

And while the company scored a marketing coup with the deal, it raised a lot of questions about the risks involved. Could a cobranding arrangement like this work? Here’s more on the situation:

What’s the deal?

Earlier this week, Google, which has been known to code-name versions of its popular Android operating system after various kinds of desserts, revealed it would name the next iteration of its OS “KitKat”—a change from prior versions, which had generic names like “Froyo,” “Jelly Bean,” and “Ice Cream Sandwich.”

(In fact, many expected this version of Android to be named “Key Lime Pie.” Not so much, apparently.)

So, it’s an experiment, or Google just accidentally invented an advertising product—either way it’s a brand new breed of corporate synergy.

To correspond with the change, the tech company made deals with both Nestlé (the manufacturer of KitKat outside the United States) and Hershey (licensed to make the candy bar for American consumers). In both cases, the deal is reportedly a marketing agreement in which no money changed hands.

Why KitKat makes sense

KitKat isn’t a generic confection name like the ones given to prior Android OS versions. It’s a brand with a global reach, much like Android itself. The deal allows for a ton of cross-promotion by Google with Hershey and Nestlé—in the case of the latter, in the form of a website and commercial designed to poke fun at Google competitor Apple:

If the marketing deal is a success, it could have a solid side benefit. As Google has traditionally had low upgrade rates for the various versions of Android, the deal could create higher public awareness of upgrading options. (But then again, KitKat is a candy bar literally designed to be fragmented…so maybe that isn’t such a good idea.)

Insanely clever or insanely crass?

Reactions to the move were mixed—with marketers and business experts seeing the deal as smart, but tech strongholds more cynical.

“So, it’s an experiment, or Google just accidentally invented an advertising product—either way it’s a brand new breed of corporate synergy,” BuzzFeed’s Matthew Lynley wrote.

In one withering take on the matter, Wired‘s Christina Bonnington said she sees the move as a downgrade of the Android brand itself—one that draws negative attention to its advertising and fragmentation issues. “Regardless of whatever happened behind closed doors, the atrocious naming move raises a lot of questions about the future of Android, and how ads will be integrated into that and other Google services,” she wrote.

The business site Minyanville, meanwhile, points to the Google-themed movie The Internship as an example of what could go wrong with the deal: “Using its campus as the setting for a weak slobs-versus-snobs comedy that felt at least five to 10 years too late,” Mike Schuster wrote, “Google only ended up looking lame and out of touch in the process.”

While pundits may question it, this is obviously a go-mainstream play—and if the public isn’t bothered by it, should the naysayers matter? After all, people are talking about it.

So let’s turn this around—let’s say your association had a chance at a cobranding arrangement. What advantages and disadvantages would you consider? Tell us all about it below.

As part of a contest, Nestlé will give out special-edition Android-shaped KitKat bars. (Nestlé promotional photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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