3 lessons from Nectar’s media partnership blunder

 A media partnership can seem like a win-win deal – but caution is essential

“Hang your head in shame,” says Steven Sambrook.

“Turned my stomach,” comments Gemela Forman.

“Brand suicide,” sneers Michael Quarry.

What could be the reason for this outpouring of anti-Nectar hate? Has it started directing customers to drought-ridden deserts? Tried to boost publicity off the back of a natural disaster? Posted a sexually explicit film trailer on a 14-year-old girl’s Facebook page?

In fact, no (although these are all examples of other genuine brand blunders). Nectar has, in the view of its usually placid userbase, done something altogether more heinous: entered into a media partnership with the Daily Mail.

Many Nectar card users are livid. Facebook statuses are attracting hundreds of shoppers queuing up to register their dismay. Some have taken the ultimate step and cut their cards in half.

It seemed like an innocent partnership giving its loyalty card scheme a bit of a boost. Instead, it’s blown up in Nectar’s face.

A successful media partnership raises brand prestige and can take engagement to new heights. But content marketers beware – there are some vital lessons to learn or risk falling into Nectar’s sticky trap.

Get the basics right

Why did Nectar get this one so wrong? One of the key reasons is that they have prioritised reach above all else. Sensitivity towards existing customers fell by the wayside.

There’s no use declaring a media partnership if you’ve not put enough thought into what it will look like – or what both sides get out of it. Have you considered a content calendar? Is your business tailoring the right formats to the right people? Though simple, such steps provide the foundations for a successful partnership.

The partnership between economia and Fidelity is an exemplary case study – two tectonic plates in the world of finance colliding to create a volcano of content. In addition to Fidelity’s content appearing in economia magazine, the personal investing firm also have their own bespoke content hub on the website.

The result is a high quality print and digital offering from a partnership that accomplished what Nectar and the Daily Mail couldn’t: engagement, interest and mutual benefit.

Political content

There’s no doubt that audiences are becoming more political and more polarised. Brands of all kinds are dealing with the consequences – some more effectively than others. Unfortunately, Nectar doesn’t seem to have received our handy memo.

Refusing to take an overtly political stance, while affiliating with a brand that certainly has, was a cardinal sin from Nectar. Its attempts to step back from the ensuing scandal haven’t paid off. Their statement in response to the furore read simply: “”The primary factor in our decision making for any new partnership is our current customer base. From our data and research, we know that there is a large crossover between our customers and Mail readers.”

A bit weak, to say the least.

We’ve previously discussed the increasing politicisation of the corporate world and taking a view on political developments of the day needn’t be a bad thing. In fact, it can be fruitful in small and sensitively applied doses, giving brands the opportunity to offer hot new takes on important trends.

But get it wrong and it can go very wrong indeed. Brands play with politics at their own risk.


Nectar’s error stinks of an insight misstep. Starting off on the wrong foot with any new campaign is difficult to recover from. Add in the potential public ignominy attached to a media partnership? Calamity.

Perhaps Nectar ran a survey showing overlap between Nectar users and Daily Mail readers. Perhaps, in their fixation on headline stats, they forgot about the damage they might be doing to brand image.

It all links back to a poorly thought-through insight strategy. It’s not enough to get your insight team involved once the horse of brand disrepute has bolted. Craft a strategy with insights at the forefront and you stand a much better chance of creating an effective campaign – whether by delivering on stated goals or gaining a much-needed understanding of user personas from an early stage (as Nectar ought to have done).

Key takeaways

Basics: be clear on what you’re trying to achieve, how, and the possible risks.

Politics: great content is well informed – but don’t generate unnecessary controversy.

Insights: don’t save them for your campaign’s conclusion – get them working immediately.

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