Prepping an Icon for the Beginning of the Next 50 Years

For 50 years, kids have been asking, “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?” As of this May, there’s an answer — the corner of 63rd Street and Broadway in New York City.

It’s the official designation for an unofficial location that’s been delighting kids since Nov. 10, 1969, when Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett launched Sesame Street. With a diverse mix of human characters and Jim Henson’s Sesame Street Muppets, the series remains an icon — the benchmark for educational programming — and a source of inspiration for some great toys, products, and family entertainment.

LICENSING A CLASSIC

Playskool Love to Hug ElmoWhat’s different about licensing for a milestone event, such as #SesameStreet50, versus a year filled with standard fare? According to Gabriela Arenas, vice president of North America licensing at Sesame Workshop, “The uniqueness of an anniversary year allows for special attention to your brand. Existing partners will enjoy the buzz of the celebration as they launch their new lines.”

For Sesame Street, new lines include a refreshed assortment of toys from master licensee Hasbro’s Playskool brand and special assortments from other longtime partners, such as GUND.

“Sesame Street’s anniversary is a way to connect more deeply with our fans, and with different demographics, we have a unique marketing strategy and launched new initiatives,” Arenas says. “There are limited-edition opportunities with new partners, such as Bombas, Toms, and Baked by Melissa,” she adds.

Sesame Workshop will announce new collaborations throughout the year, allowing companies to apply the characters of Sesame Street to unique niche areas. Mompreneurs who have raised their kids on the series are featured heavily, with mom-led companies entering the mix, including Lauren Moshi, Milk Snob, Paul & Joe, and ezpz. “We’re proud to join forces with talented leaders in a wide range of categories from fashion to beauty to food to parent essentials,” Arenas says, adding that 15 to 20 more new collaborations will launch this year.

Sesame Street

OLD SCHOOL MEETS NEW SCHOOL

With cross-generational appeal that spans decades, Sesame Workshop faces a unique challenge of maintaining balance between products for kids who are into Sesame Street now and adults who were fans as kids.

“It is all about the execution,” Arenas explains. “When working with adult products, designers take a more sophisticated, trend-based approach to the brand, while kids products tend to feature a more classic character stylization.”

Arenas says that while all of the characters “are fair game” for licensees, regardless of whether they’re creating products for kids or adults, there is a divide when it comes to favorites.

“Adult fans gravitate more toward Cookie Monster and Oscar, as well as original favorites Snuffy, the Count, and Bert and Ernie,” she says. “Children tend to be obsessed with Elmo and Cookie Monster because they are the most-featured characters on the show today.”

Cookie Monster Foodie Truck

LOOKING TOWARD THE NEXT 50 YEARS

Next year, Grover will step into the spotlight as Sesame Workshop adapts The Monster at the End of This Book for TV. How do you position a classic character to take on an elevated role without taking focus away from the other evergreen residents of the ‘Street?

“Sesame Street is an ensemble cast of characters, each with a distinct personality, but they’ve also been featured in a world of their own,” Arenas says. “Elmo will continue to have Elmo’s World, Cookie Monster has Foodie Truck, and Abby has Abby’s Amazing Adventures. Monster at the End of This Book is Sesame Street’s No. 1 best-selling print book of all time — so successful that it evolved into a best-selling print book called Another Monster at the End of This Book. Both are also top-performing in e-books and apps, so this is a natural brand extension.”

In addition to the TV special, a musical Sesame Street movie is currently in development at Warner Bros. for 2021.


This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of the Toy Book.