Sesame Street’s Brand Purpose

Gabriela Arenas, senior vice president, global consumer products, Sesame Workshop, reflects on the continued growth on over 50 years of its mission to connect with kids and families.

License Global

May 17, 2024

4 Min Read
Gabriela Arenas.
Gabriela Arenas. Sesame Workshop

At a Glance

  • Having an Authentic Purpose
  • Sesame Workshop's Commitment to the Emotional Well-Being of Young Children
  • "Elmo is Just Checking in"

Why do we make the choices we make? What compels any of us to choose one product or experience over another? It’s the question at the heart of what we do. And one answer is increasingly clear: brand purpose. Studies show that people care a lot. They want a business’s values to align with their own, and they choose brands that seek to further their business and make a positive impact on society.

As a global impact nonprofit, Sesame Workshop has been a brand with purpose for over 50 years. We know how to bring today’s consumer products and experiences that delight, connect and are enjoyed by millions of kids and families around the world, but that expertise always comes directly from our mission – harnessing the power of media and technology to provide joyful early learning while evolving to create timely resources that help each generation of children and families face new challenges that come their way.

Having an authentic purpose is rewarding in ways beyond the point of purchase. It can create an ongoing personal connection, and a virtuous circle for any brand. In our case, the more brand love we generate with characters and award-winning media like “Sesame Street,” the more quality licensed products and experiences we can bring to fans and families, and the more mission-driven work we can do to meet children’s needs around the world, whatever they may be.

Last year, in response to the growing mental health crisis, Sesame Workshop announced a multi-year commitment to the emotional well-being of young children and their families. Our approach has been to address this important need on a multi-level basis across our main pillars. We launched on the content vertical, with “Elmo’s Mindfulness Spectacular,” a 45-minute “Sesame Street” and YouTube health and wellness special that sent Elmo and Abby Cadabby on a mindfulness adventure with favorite stars. We also collaborated with the Ad Council on a PSA with the original song, “Me & My Grown-Up.”

Because reading is so powerful, we teamed up with Lerner Publishing Group on books focusing on social and emotional well-being: “Being Thankful with Gabrielle: A Book about Gratitude,” “Counting Breaths with the Count: A Book about Mindfulness,” “Do Your Part with Grover: A Book about Responsibility” and “You Rock with Ji-Young: A Book about Self-Confidence.” And Mayo Clinic Press Kids will be coming out with books celebrating a whole-body approach to health. 

For a nonprofit, partners are critical. Just as consumers carefully choose names they respect, so do we. It is important to us to collaborate with mission-aligned brands like Kenneth Cole, with whom we created a capsule collection of apparel featuring Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, Elmo and the Count, each with tailored messages that speak to mental health and raise awareness around children’s emotional well-being. Kenneth Cole also donated to support our resources that support families, just as our master toy licensee, Just Play, meaningfully contributes to our social-impact efforts with vital funding for initiatives that bring early learning and support to children worldwide. 

Having a solid purpose helps keep your brand in the public conversation. If you are lucky enough to strike a cultural chord, you must be ready to leverage attention to build on the work. 

Earlier this year, Elmo posted a simple message on “X” – “Elmo is just checking in. How is everybody doing?” The response was immediate and overwhelming. Elmo became the platform’s No. 1 trending topic, as the message engaged millions, including celebrities and brands. Over 850 press outlets worldwide covered the viral moment. Elmo appearing on the TODAY show and CNN in the U.S. and even Australia’s “Today” show. 

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Acting with speed-to-market is critical, so we aligned with our licensing partners to take action while momentum was still building and were able to quickly launch products with several dedicated partners that celebrated checking in on friends and taking care of each other – like new SKUs of Elmo apparel at Hot Topic, Walmart, Target and J.C. Penney featuring slogans like “Just checking in” and “How is everybody doing?” 

I believe the reason this strategy successfully connected with so many people – the reason the message went viral in the first place – comes down to brand purpose and how it resonates authentically with audiences. Authenticity is always the key. Brands must be 100% committed to their mission, not simply following popular trends. Consumers know when something is not authentic, and brands that try to capitalize on trends risk tarnishing their most valuable asset – brand trust. 

Embracing brand purpose has many other advantages. If your purpose is timeless, it helps maintain brand relevance in a changing world. It creates loyalty among your consumers and audiences; it helps to recruit, motivate and inspire passionate employees who become brand advocates; and, most of all, it increases the impact your brand can have on society.

This story was taken from the May 2024 issue of License Global. Read the full issue here.

About the Author(s)

License Global

License Global is the leading news source for the brand licensing industry, delivering award-winning editorial content including news, trends, analysis, and special reports about the global consumer product and retail marketplace.

Through its print edition, website, daily e-newsletter and event publications, License Global reaches more than 150,000 executives and professionals in all major markets. The magazine also serves as the official publication for the sector’s trade events, which include Licensing Expo, Brand Licensing Europe, Licensing Expo Japan, Licensing Expo Shanghai and the Licensing Leadership Summit.

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