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The role of established brands in the Sharing Economy

Over the past 5 years there has been a clear shift in consumer behaviour. The line between what’s mine and what’s yours has started to blur as people are increasingly sharing things and valuing ‘access to assets’ over ‘ownership’.

Before the recession, more meant more and ownership was a symbol of freedom and independence; today many see it as a burden and an expense. It is now possible to share and rent homes, cars, bikes, tools, pets, designer bags, Lego sets, parking spaces, services and even luxury yachts in exchange for a small fraction of what it would cost for you to own those things. Peer-to-Peer companies like AirBnB, Bla Bla Car, Eat With and Task Rabbit (to name a few), are expanding rapidly and many say that this is just the beginning, as the Sharing Economy is not just growing, but accelerating.

Trust is at the heart of the Sharing Economy. These days, people are willing to eat at a complete stranger’s table and drive away with someone they have never met before. Unthinkable a few years ago, it has enabled the creation of new and exciting markets.

Trust is the new social currency. Online peer-reviews shape each individual’s reputation, and can open or close the doors to the on and offline communities emerging around the world.

The shift in consumer behaviour is clearly having an impact on established brands, so it is important for marketers to be able to understand the drivers and barriers to entering the Sharing Economy. While some are still evaluating the potential damage, others have embraced it as an opportunity and are enjoying the benefits of it. Today we look at brands that have become active participants in the Sharing Economy:


In light of the popularity of companies like Zipcar and RelayRides (a Peer-to-Peer service that allows users to borrow other people’s cars), the motor industry has realised that it’s time to adapt or die.

Consequently, forward-thinking car manufacturers and traditional car rental firms are rolling out their own car sharing services. Avis acquired Zipcar earlier this year, GM has partnered with RelayRides and created OnStar (an exclusive mobile app that makes car sharing a much easier and more secure experience), BMW and Sixt have launched DriveNow and are hoping to generate a million new customers for the brand by 2020, Citroën has Multicity, Peugeot has Mu, Daimler has Car2Go, and the list goes on!

The Sharing Economy offers these companies an opportunity to extend customer relationships from “a point in time” to “points across time”. It creates word-of-mouth amongst younger consumers and it enables hassle-free trial of their products. It is no wonder then that so many car retailers are trying to join the Sharing Economy.


Sponsorship of sharing services or products is one of the ways in which established brands can get a foot into the Sharing Economy. In the same way that Barclays Bank sponsors the sharing bike system in London, CitiBank sponsors the sharing bike system in NYC. However, while in London the bikes are often referred to as Boris Bikes, in NYC, the sponsor’s name is integral to the name of the service and everyone referrers to them as CitiBikes. In fact, it was because of the appropriate name that the mayor of NYC approached Citibank in the first place.

The $41 million sponsorship deal that Citibank signed with the mayor of NYC has certainly paid off for Citigroup. Not only can you see the company’s logo all over the city, but just six months after the launch of CitiBike, the bank´s popularity has increased noticeably. There is a larger part of the public agreeing with the statements that CitiBank is an “innovative company”, “socially responsible”, and “a company for people like me”.


Creating a marketplace is another way in which brands can have an active role in peer-to-peer communities. UK online retailer, ASOS, successfully runs ASOS Marketplace – a platform for individuals and small businesses to sell their own label, branded clothes and vintage collections.

ASOS Marketplace allows users to list as many items from their wardrobe as they want, for free. In exchange ASOS takes a 5% commission when the item is sold. What’s interesting is that by helping users to sell their wardrobes, they are also helping them to fund their next fashion fix which, chances are, will be satisfied by ASOS.

ASOS marketplace allows the brand to be not just a helping hand, but also the go-to place online for fashionistas around the world.


Pepsi claims that the taste of their new low-calorie drink, Pepsi Next, is “so unbelievable that you have to try it to believe it”. In order to give people the time to relax and try the new drink, Pepsi partnered with TaskRabbit, an online and mobile company that connects neighbours to get things done.

Throughout The Extra Hour project (launched via Pepsi’s social media channels), fans of the brand received a free bottle of Pepsi Next, plus a free hour from a member of TaskRabbit to run their errands.

By understanding their consumers’ reality (always in need of free time) and finding a relevant way to tap into the ever-growing Sharing Economy, Pepsi positioned itself as a forward thinking company whose innovative spirit goes beyond product development. In fact, the partnership with TaskRabbit generated over 93 million impressions on facebook!

In short, the Sharing Economy is here to stay and there is plenty of opportunity for brands leverage it. It is time for marketers to put on their thinking caps and find interesting ways to take part.