Sanet Yelland
Sanet Yelland

The evolution of branded merchandise to shopper experience

by Sanet Yelland. Brand merchandising efforts have been elevated to a new level through clever choices of brand collaborations and innovative merchandising.

by Sanet Yelland. Branded gear and merchandise have long been a staple of consumer marketing and trade shows and have been utilised to engage consumers in rich experiences connected to brand storytelling. Brands leverage branded merchandise as ‘virtual billboards’. The best swag has longevity as consumers who proudly wear your label not only build awareness, but also express brand loyalty.

Defining a merchandising brand experience

Brand merchandising has been used for almost as long as human commerce. By linking merchandising, consumer truths and brand experiences, a brand is elevated from simple branding to standing for something much more. Beyond the natural opportunity that exists in ‘just cool branded gear’, some of the recent merchandising efforts have taken it to a new level in efforts to drive better brand differentiation, connect with new audiences and enable better purpose-driven narratives through clever choices of brand collaborations and types of innovative merchandising that is produced.

Distinct innovation, excitement and hype
  • Nando’s – The restaurant group is now selling clothes that change colour with your body heat. Nando’s is synonymous with bringing the heat and flavour; what better way to connect this brand ownable into a differentiated experience, but one that requires you to bring the heat? (Only available in the UK).
  • Heinz – The condiment brand collaborated with thredUP, the online thrifting platform, to produce a limited-edition collection of 157 one-of-a-kind clothing from big fashion brands. Through a campaign called Vintage Drip, it turned Heinz tomato sauce stained clothes into a fashion statement and helped extend the life out of preloved clothing. The sauce ‘drip’ – an iconic brand symbol – has been made cool and ownable. It’s also a great insight into human behaviour of the ketchup spill.
  • Lego and Stranger Things LEGO and Stranger Things collaborated to produce a bespoke set that was the most iconic scene from the series. About 31% of those aged between 18 and 29 years have watched every episode of Stranger Things. Based on the duality of realms seen in the show, the LEGO set can be turned upside down once built and even comes with a mini Demogorgon. Strategically, this partnership was essential to improving the exposure of both brands.
Connection to culture

Every brand wants to be authentic in how they connect with their audiences and ensure the relevance of communication and connections with consumers. Tapping into richer culture dynamics linked to your brand merchandising experience not only adds better value to consider but also sets your brand apart from others and creates an unexpected delight.

  • Innovation for tech progression: Tech for tech sake, has never been truer than brand experiences that connect the consumer with technology. Innovation and putting human interaction at the centre of the experience sets brands apart in branded gear (who can forget cool wearable tech clothing), enabling a better experience.
  • Target audience richer connections: Standout branded gear experiences resonate with audience lives and embrace the way they move. Athleisure wear branded merchandising, for instance, reveals an increased focus on how audiences want to consume and be seen with the gear. Wearing certain threads is a statement for life, and defines your worldview.
  • Puma’s Mayze sneaker sweeps Instagram: Known for its boundary-pushing streetwear collaborations, it thrilled UK influencers with the April release of its Mayze women’s sneaker. Propelled by a launch campaign starring singer Dua Lipa (@dualipaon Instagram), the platform shoe saw the impactful promotion from fashion enthusiasts such as Billykiss Azeez (@billykiss) and Poppy Mead (@poppymead). They flaunted their kicks in outfit posts tagged #PumaMayze. Content about the sneaker was often affiliated with Puma’s ongoing #SheMovesUs initiative, which champions women’s athleticism and empowerment.
  • Brand mutual collaborations: ‘Better together’ collaborations can elevate, amplify and create distinction for two brands with a collective narrative to define each purpose. One of the coolest and most unexpected branded collaborations was between rivals McDonald’s and Burger King. These two burger giants came together for an amazing cause in September 2019, in Argentina. McDonald’s was raising money for childhood cancer and all proceeds from Big Mac sales were donated for one day in Argentina. To help the cause, Burger King halted Whopper sales for a day, dubbing it “A Day Without Whopper.”
  • Enriching the experience for branded shopper value: While the coolest brand merchandising gear efforts are focused primarily on enriching new consumer experiences through specific items, elevated brand storytelling and driving brand loyalty, there are great opportunities to link shopper experiences and drive increased brand consumption.
  • Immersive experiences linked to purchase: By driving opportunities for cool gear to be accessed exclusively through loyalty and purchase, shoppers look for ways to get first access to items to unlock an experience as the reward. Every fashion fanatic dreams of owning a pair of the notorious red bottom Christian Louboutinshoes – the iconic designer brand paired up with Pernod Ricard beverages to throw an unforgettable after party. The season’s newest red sole running shoes floated atop translucent pedestals, accentuated by vibrant red lighting and the event’s signature drink “Loubi On The Run.”
  • Limited editions: Nothing shouts “get me now and be the first”than limited editions. Often experienced in new store formats, new event launches and social media releases, limited edition gear ups the potential to create hype and increase exclusive spend. Friends Reunion merchandise is a good example of getting fans excited about the ”drop”.
  • New shoppers to a brand: Sometimes shoppers will not have considered the brand until a cool experience, an unusual collab, or a novel packaging has piqued their interest. These are great ways to access new audiences by knowing where to connect and serve the unexpected.

In summary, sometimes it’s just rethinking how new opportunities can enable a brand to develop a new merchandising narrative and kick-start the brand experience into something ownable and novel for unique cultural storytelling.


Main image credit: Nandos.



Sanet Yelland is the CEO and founder of Streamline Advertising, a full service agency. She has worked across the industry for 30 years, on clients within financial services, wholesale, retail, FMCG and government sectors on notable brands, including Massmart, Dis-chem, SAA, City of Johannesburg, Nedbank, Absa Bank, and Pick ‘n Pay (Score Supermarkets and RiteValue brands). Yelland started the Young Community Shapers initiative in 2000. This project acknowledges and celebrates the achievements of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing funding, bursaries, and mentorship.


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