The Bugg Report sat down with Gisela Abrams prior to Licensing Expo to learn about all the latest updates from Sesame Workshop including toys, promotions, TV and the introduction of a new character to the Sesame Workshop gang.
Gisela, will your recent regional partnership with HeadStart for toys in Australia & New Zealand lead to more innovation in other parts of our region in relation to more local product development, marketing and distribution arrangements?
First, we are completely excited to be working with HeadStart in Australia & New Zealand. Toys are an anchor category for us in the region, and HeadStart’s expertise in retail execution, product development, and marketing is unparalleled. Most certainly, we’re looking forward to opportunities to tap into local talent and see what creative things they can do with the Sesame Street characters and brand. We’ve had a long history of great partnerships with homegrown brands. A couple of years ago, we worked with Peter Alexander on a new line of PJs and loungewear, and shot the catalog on the Sesame Street set. We’ve also teamed up with the AFL to create co-branded Sesame Street merchandise for 17 of the league’s teams. We look forward to developing more partnerships with established and up-and-coming regional brands.
I notice with interest that you have developed and launched many new promotional campaigns throughout this region including the recent partnership with Cookie Monster and The Australian Blood Bank. Would you mind sharing some of your most successful campaigns?
The Australian Red Cross Blood Service used celebrity chefs and Cookie Monster in a campaign to encourage people to donate blood. Everyone knows you get a delicious biscuit at the end of the process, so it made perfect sense for Cookie to participate! Our cookie-loving monster was also featured in an Apple ad using Siri to help him bake up a batch of his favourite treats. We worked with the AFL on their “Put Yourself in Their Socks” campaign in recognition of Australia’s youngest and bravest heroes – children who battle cancer. We also had a great international campaign with our PUMA collaboration. The Puma x Sesame Street collection featured a very cool line of sneakers, apparel, and accessories – all adorned the Sesame Street characters for both kids and adults.
Peter Alexander shot his catalogue on the Sesame set in New York in recent times. This campaign resonated globally. In your opinion, what did this do for the profile of your brand?
They shot their catalogue and some fun bits for their social media platforms. We loved the vibrancy and joyfulness that Peter brought to the set which matched so well with our Sesame Street Muppets. There was a lot of laughter that day: it was a perfect combination of fur, fun and fab. We have a wonderful on-going collaboration and we just celebrated Peter Alexander’s 30th anniversary in the industry with a Sesame Street’s capsule collection featured at his stores.
As we look toward Licensing Expo where there will be many thousands of brands on show, can you tell us how Sesame has remained relevant and connected to both the industry and the consumer?
It’s such an exciting time in the licensing industry. Just see how the number of exhibitors and attendance have grown! This is a reflection of how strong brands are and how they are engaging with consumers on a much deeper level. We’re thrilled to be a part of that. For almost 50 years, we’ve been able to deliver experiences and products that resonate with our fans. What keeps us relevant is the research we do every year to identify what issues are impacting children and how we can best address those needs through our content offering. What also keeps us top of mind is that the Sesame Street Muppets serve as great role models and always stay true to their characters. Elmo, with his contagious giggle, loves to learn. Cookie has a big appetite for life. Abby always wants to help her friends. Big Bird is the ever optimist. Everyone has a favourite character they can relate to.
Gisela, outside of Australia what are your three most important markets in the Asia Pacific Region to develop and why?
Our top three markets would include Japan, Korea, and China. There’s an inherent affinity for character brands. Teens and young adults love Sesame Street as much as young children. But there’s also a strong value for education. This is where Sesame Street plays a key role. Our organisation is an educational force for change and social good around the world. Using the power of media and our engaging Sesame Street Muppets, we reach and teach children through a wide range of high and low-tech media, formal education, and philanthropically-funded interventions, all tailored to the needs and cultures of the communities we serve. Our programs are grounded in rigorous research and constantly evaluated.
I notice with interest that you have introduced a brand new character into Sesame Workshop, her name is Julia and she has Autism. As is the case with many similar conditions, it is relatively misunderstood. How do you see her part in the show educating people in general about this condition?
Julia actually started as a digital character when we launched our initiative Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children in the U.S. in 2015. There was a tremendous outpouring of support from the autism community. So many people related instantly to Julia; they wanted to see more of her, and specifically hoped to see her come to life as a Muppet. Our focus with the initiative is on promoting understanding and acceptance around autism and reducing stigma by showing the amazing in all children, while providing tools for families of children with autism to help with challenging moments. The support and feedback we have received from families and individuals from all over the world has been tremendous, and we are actively looking to localise the content in several countries. Watch this space!
In a world that is now changing on a daily basis, how do the core values of Sesame Street stack up?
Our mission is to help children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. Sesame Street helps children learn their ABCs and 123s, but we’re also invested in their social-emotional well-being. We conducted a study last year and found that parents and teachers in the United States worry that their children are living in an unkind world: that people do not go out of their way to help others and believe that children need strong social-emotional skills to succeed in life. We undertook this study because we, ourselves, felt that the world seemed to be lacking in empathy and were concerned what the long-term impact of that would be on children and society as children grow older. The survey confirmed our concerns, and we think it’s time to have a conversation about kindness.
What are your key priorities for the show this year?
This current season, the 47th, is all about kindness. We’ve also just introduced Julia. We’re gearing up for our 50th anniversary in 2019. And we’re looking to do more unexpected collaborations. We can’t wait to share more news soon.