This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on August 19th, 2019.
It’s been a pretty good summer for Ed Sheeran. He’s currently headlining the highest-grossing tour of all time, his supporting role in the hit movie Yesterday was (in my opinion, anyway) the best celebrity movie cameo in at least a decade, and his new album, No.6 Collaborations Project, topped charts in the U.S. and U.K.
And yet, despite a summer that has seen him collaborate with Justin Bieber, Khalid, Bruno Mars, and more, his best collaboration was with a (somewhat) unlikely duet partner: Heinz Ketchup.
First, some background. Sheeran is a longtime superfan of Heinz Ketchup—so much of a superfan that he tattooed the brand’s label on his bicep.
Earlier this summer, after (reportedly) sending a DM to Heinz with an idea for a commercial, Sheeran starred in a spot for the brand. It was billed as being “from one superfan to another” and showcased Sheeran’s unique brand of humor. It’s been viewed millions of times online.
Many fans thought the commercial—and its subsequent behind-the-scenes sizzle reel—would be the end of the story. Then, Sheeran announced a limited series of 150 bottles of Heinz decorated skinned in artwork inspired by Sheeran’s his tattoos. (Get it? He has a Heinz tattoo, so Heinz got an Ed tattoo.)
The brand produced 150 collector’s edition bottles of the condiment, packaged in an undeniably cool amp-inspired box. Most are being given to superfans, but three were auctioned last week to raise money for charities. The bottles sold for between $1,300 and $1,800.
For comparison sake, the top bid (1,500 GBP) is enough to buy about 760 standard, non-tattooed bottles of the stuff (no fun collector’s boxes included). Is it crazy to pay that much for one bottle of ketchup? Maybe. But, I think it’s worth it to own one of the best celebrity/brand product releases of the year—in fact, I’m kind of kicking myself for not bidding on one. Keep reading to learn why.
I’ve spent my entire career marketing to superfans of artists, brands, and entertainers. There are a few reasons this campaign is super smart.
First, it’s undeniably authentic. There probably aren’t many people in the world with Heinz tattoos—and the list of superstar, Grammy-winning artists sporting the brand’s tat might be a universe of one. So, the partnership certainly passes the first bar of a smart brand/entertainer entertainment marketing campaign, which is “Is this authentic?”
Many high-profile partnerships don’t even get marks for that basic bar, although that should be the bare minimum brands consider when thinking about a partnership with an influencer or celebrity. When I speak to audiences about marketing to superfans, I use the acronym F-A-N to help evaluate a campaign’s potential reach: Is it Fun? Is it Actionable? Is it Novel?
Let’s look at each criterion individually as it relates to Sheeran and Heinz’s collaboration. Is it Fun? This partnership absolutely passes the fun test: Sheeran seems to be having a great time in the commercial product, and his social posts about the partnership didn’t sound (at all) like they were written by an agency. Check.
Next: Is it Actionable? This is a big one when it comes to celebrity marketing stunts. A lot of times when brands collaborate with entertainers, there’s nothing for a consumer to do, which makes a campaign forgettable or, worse, confusing. Sheeran and Heinz are inviting superfans to win a collectible bottle of the condiment, and encouraging donations to two charities: one chosen by Sheeran and another by Heinz. So, yes—it’s actionable. Not as actionable as, say, a wide-release product that fans could buy at grocery stores everywhere, but much more authentic. Plus, an on-label, shopper-marketing component could still be unrolled. I’m calling “yes” on Actionable.
The final criterion in my F-A-N acronym is Novel: Is this something unlike what I’ve seen in this category before? The partnership is undeniably novel, thanks to Sheeran’s tattoos and the fact that he initiated the idea for the ad with the brand. Not only is it unlike what condiment brands have done before, but it’s also ownable in the sense that a competitor won’t be able to repeat it for a long time (if at all).
Sheeran fans will have to wait to see if there’s another verse yet to come in this love song to Heinz. If so, we can only hope it will be as F-A-N-tastic as what we’ve seen so far.