Five examples of viral creator-brand ad collabs
Come launch time, brand and creator collaborations have a way of looking effortless. From product names to color palettes, it’s as if the brand and creator were made for each other.
A look behind the scenes, however, shows that success is no accident.
We looked at five successful brand and creator collaborations to see what made them tick. From COVID-challenged in-home studio collaborations to long-term partnerships that are the antithesis of an overnight success, here’s what’s going on behind some recent successful collaborations.
1. Nikita Dragun x Morphe
Nikita Dragun is an influencer, make-up artist, and model. Though brands had been hoping to collaborate with Nikita for years, Dragun continued to say no.
Rather than say “yes” to the wrong opportunity, Nikita wanted to showcase her own power. Along with her manager, Jake Webb, Nikita Dragun founded an independent D2C brand called Dragun Beauty.
“Everything about Nikita and her brand comes down to her strong female intuition,” said Webb. “When Nikita wants to partner with someone, it's always about, ‘How out of the box can we make this?’ and ‘How can we creatively challenge ourselves further to achieve Nikita's unique visions?’” According to Webb, they’ve received many offers for collaborations in the past and Nikita’s answer was always the same.
What made Morphe different? “For starters,” says Webb, “it was the market timing. Dragun Beauty had begun to come into its own—but Dragun wanted a retail presence as well.”
A combination of eCommerce and traditional retail made more sense after the peak of COVID-19, especially with more customers ready for an omnichannel approach. With more customers in-store, but just as many ready to shop online, the Nikita Dragun x Morphe collaboration seemed like an ideal fit.
“What also made a huge difference for us was that the collaboration allowed us to create a retail partnership with her brand Dragun Beauty,” said Webb. Dragun’s goal of scaling her make-up empire with a physical retail presence meant the timing was right.
“Dragun Beauty is core to Nikita’s brand and DNA,” said Webb. “It’s a symbol—that a trans girl from Virginia can move to LA, go to college, and choose a different path for herself. One that makes her CEO of her own life, never dependent on anyone but herself.”
Had Dragun taken the first opportunity that came her way with YouTube and Instagram success, that identity might look very different. “We created Dragun Beauty to create a community for trans people and all people,” said Webb. “So not only could they find each other and their love of makeup, but also find community and opportunity.”
The “360-degree” partnership between Morphe and Dragun Beauty included displays that highlighted the collaboration. Morphe also employed “a year of various e-tail and retail promotions” between both partners, Webb noted. Now, Dragun Beauty is available online and in every Morphe store worldwide.
According to Webb, the result is an efficient, integrated marketing approach and a new “indie brand” that reflects the values of its famous founder.
2. Hrush x Morphe Cosmetics
Hrush Achemyan built a personal brand encompassing wellness, mental health, and self-care. To that end, any brand collaboration Hrush got herself into would require a customer-first approach.
Simultaneously, Hrush’s influence partially comes from her status as a celebrity makeup artist. A brand collaboration would need to put customers first while celebrating the artistry that’s made Hrush’s work so famous.
She found this balance with a curated self-care kit—one Hrush created herself—and a brand collaboration with (who else?) Morphe Cosmetics.
“Hrush wanted to partner with a brand that celebrates artistry,” notes manager Jake Webb. “The marriage was organic and perfect. Using Morphe’s makeup-loving audience, Hrush was able to share her passion for wellness and self-care.”
Why the curated self-care kit? On Hrush’s side, a self-care kit meant sharing her spiritual journey of health and wellness. For customers, it means sampling the artistry that comes with Hrush’s skills—skills that have been honed on a roster of celebrity clients.
For Morphe, letting Hrush curate these self-care products from a selection of Morphe’s finest offerings, along with custom packaging, meant a new opportunity to create something for their customers.
“It sold out, of course,” said Webb.
The custom packaging available with Morphe highlighted what a unique product Hrush helped curate. From Hrush’s perspective, the custom packaging meant the collaboration was more than just a product. It was an opportunity to elevate her name from a celebrity makeup artist to an international beauty content creator.
3. Morphe x Nyane
British-born content creator Nyane connected with talent manager Zach Cole in 2021. Cole, sensing Nyane’s beauty content had an aesthetic that would be a perfect fit for Morphe, brought her to the brand for a collaboration. Given the success they’ve had with other collaborations, it’s not surprising that they agreed.
A few weeks after signing, Cole had already put together a Morphe x Nyane collaboration offer package.
Traditionally, Morphe moves more slowly than that. Morphe’s usual playbook means growing relationships with creative talent from affiliate relationships, then style edits, and finally onto full collaborations.
But Nyane was an exception.
“Nyane has been one of the OG Instagram aesthetic creators,” said Cole, who noted that Nyane spent the past several years developing her own visual storytelling skills. Cole immediately noticed Nyane’s passion for the beauty world and the transformative power of makeup.
“One look at her IG and you can see how she goes from soft and glam to fierce warrior with the flick of a makeup brush,” said Cole.
Despite Cole’s enthusiasm, there was one problem. Nyane was based in Europe and Cole initially didn’t think a working relationship would be possible. Cole calls it, “something I’m very happy to have been wrong about.”
But then COVID-19 hit. Suddenly, location mattered far less and Morphe asked Nyane to film all of her marketing assets from her home studio in Amsterdam. This was a first for Morphe—the brand reached out to Nyane’s partner and producer to “lead the charge,” said Cole.
By February 2022, Morphe x Nyane launched the Fierce Fairytale collection online, in Morphe stores, and at Ulta. The collaboration was so successful, Morphe decided to extend their partnership with Nayne for another six months to a year.
“She is the epitome of a Morphe creator,” said Cole. “Unique, bold, and bright—and [Morphe] knew her expertise and eye for detail would result in the perfect partnership.”
4. Roxette Arisa x Mac Cosmetics
It’s safe to say Roxette Arisa, a makeup influencer with hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers and 1.25 million subscribers on YouTube, has an established audience. But her partnership with Mac Cosmetics isn’t an overnight success story like others on this list.
Instead, it’s been a long-term partnership built on a foundation of professionalism and willingness to work with the brand whenever it pivots.
Arisa’s partnership with Mac isn’t a licensing deal, it’s a larger endorsement and brand ambassadorship. Through talent manager Chelsea Durgin, Roxette has turned a recurring partnership into a long-term success story.
Mac’s partner offers are traditionally for one year at a time, but the relationship with Roxette has been going on since 2018. Durgin chalks this up to Roxette going “above and beyond in her content style and productions.” Not to mention the positive, professional attitude she brings as a brand ambassador.
It’s not just words, either. Roxette reinvests in her relationship with Mac. “We typically take 5-10% of the total fee and put it into production,” said Durgin.
They then work closely with their production team to achieve Roxette’s vision. Roxette is also mindful of any briefs the brand hands over that share the “vibe of the campaign,” according to Durgin.
Roxette’s brand ambassadorship isn’t only a public-facing endeavor. It is also reflected in Roxette’s treatment of Mac’s campaigns like they’re her own. According to Durgin, Roxette has put time and effort into this relationship beyond product posting. That includes attending Mac events and proactively spending time with the Mac team.
“Mac continues to invest yearly,” noted Durgin, “due to Roxette’s above-and-beyond effort in content, professionalism, and kindness.”
It’s nice to know that kindness still pays. But it doesn’t hurt that Roxette also works hard to get her messaging right. She uses the brand briefs Mac provides and works with Slash Studios to execute them in detail. Both team members are in lockstep for each milestone, Durgin said, from ideating the vision with the brand briefs to producing the assets and delivering them to Mac.
5. Strashme x Morphe
Ashley Strong, also known as Strashme, is not only a makeup artist but a mental health advocate. Strong won the first Instant Influencer competition show (a YouTube original), which gave her a larger platform. She gained immediate traction thanks to a unique approach to makeup. She believes self-care can be meditative, therapeutic, and inspiring.
Enter Morphe. While talent manager Chelsea Durgin was once again on the case, talent manager Asia Gousse is now managing Strashme directly.
True to Morphe’s usual approach, the collaboration began in two phases. In phase one, Ashley was introduced to the Morphe family as a potential face of its holiday campaign. In phase two, she worked with the product team to develop a full original line which included a “statement palette” that defined the campaign.
Given Morphe’s affinity towards influencers who elevate makeup to artistry and inspiration, the pair proved to be a natural fit. There was just one wrench in the machine: the pandemic.
“We had to execute product formula, product design, and packaging all over Zoom,” noted Chelsea Durgin. “Product was being shipped from the factory to LA to Alaska, back to LA, back to the factory. It was quite a production feat. Thankfully, we were able to produce the marketing assets together in LA.”
Through it all, Ashley maintained her vision of a palette centered around mental health. And despite the COVID restrictions, Ashley’s team wanted to maintain a close relationship with Morphe throughout. They celebrated the launch with an intimate brunch, staying true to COVID restrictions, but just as true to the partnership with Morphe. That partnership had grown all the more intimate given the challenges posed by COVID.
What successful brand and creator ad collabs have to teach us
Though some of the names and faces might repeat themselves, one thing is clear: there isn’t one path to brand and creator ad collaboration success.
- Align on the artistry. Time and again, this is the approach of Morphe Cosmetics, who places creative innovation at the top of its collaborative priorities. Get “aligned with values of artistry,” said Chelsea Durgin, and you have the ingredients for a successful collaboration. Keeping this a priority also means finding all sorts of unique voices for Morphe.
- Become a fan. Zach Cole recommends this for creators. Though he wasn’t, he might as well have been talking about Roxette Alisa, whose professionalism and dedication to representing Mac Cosmetics has continued to get her re-signed to one-year deals.
- Make it a true collaboration. “Make sure that the brand understands that this is a collaboration every step of the way,” said Cole, noting it was “something Morphe was amazing at.”
Brand and creator collaborations might be two-ingredient recipes, but when both parties are in tune, amazing things can happen.