Innovative co-branding (and risk-taking) with Android KitKat

Android KitKatThere’s a lot going on in the mobile devices market these days.

News about new iPhones from Apple. Much talk about Microsoft buying Nokia’s phone business and speculation about the impact on the smartphone market. The forthcoming release of a new version of Android, the mobile operating system from Google.

These are usually topics of keen interest to the business and tech media and online communities, geeks and enthusiasts.

But an announcement on September 3 changes all that, where a mobile operating system and devices that run it will become as known about as brands of soup, fizzy drinks and chocolate wafer bars.

Google is about to launch the next version of Android, numerically version 4.4 and informally (and unofficially) called Key Lime Pie.

That new version is coming but it won’t be known as Key Lime Pie. Instead it will be called Android KitKat.

It’s a name that’s about to get wide and mainstream attention in major markets worldwide as a result of a branding and marketing tie-up that Google and Swiss-based food and beverage conglomerate Nestlé have made with the launch of the new mobile OS and a new version of the KitKat chocolate wafer bar also called 4.4.

The confectionary will come with Android branding on the wrappers and include vouchers for Google’s Nexus 7 tablet and Google Play credit in the markets where the promotion is launching, according to the press release:

[…] more than 50 million specially branded KitKat bars will be available in 19 countries including Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Dubai, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The packs will lead consumers to the website android.com/kitkat where they will have the opportunity to win prizes including a limited number of Google Nexus 7 tablets, and credits to spend in Google Play, Google’s online store for apps, games, music, movies, books and more.

A small number of Android robot-shaped KitKat bars will also be offered as prizes in selected markets.

This is an imaginative idea, one that will potentially give Google’s Android wider brand recognition that isn’t focused just on the tech. It will likely make Android (and, by extension, mobile devices that run it) look very cool.

It’s a potential big win for Nestlé with its KitKat brand that is a leader in many markets, as well as supporting  its wider business goals:

[…] Nestlé’s branding partnership with Google is the company’s latest move in its ambition to leverage digital technology and online content to get closer to its consumers to better understand and cater to their preferences.

There are risks as well as rewards, as some commentators are pointing out, eg, should one of these two brands have a recall or be involved in some kind of scandal, it will most likely taint the other. There’s also the risk of activist protest, eg, Greenpeace’s attack on Nestlé over palm oil production for KitKat in 2010 (and think about what happened to Shell at the Belgian Grand Prix F1 race last week).

Risks indeed and I’d expect those to have been carefully considered and balanced as part of both parties’ risk assessment before agreeing the deal. But for an innovative approach to co-branding by two unlikely-looking partners, I think it’s a great move.

And I like Nestlé’s informal, almost irreverent, approach to what they’re doing, as this video indicates. Heh, ‘KitKat 4.4′ – a moniker that fits well with the ambition for digital that they outlined as it cements a tech connection with the Android version number.

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

What do you think? An imaginative partnership, or brand damage waiting in the wings?

In any case, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the new KitKat packaging in my local supermarket.