The power of collaborations: interview with Sanrio’s Silvia Figini on Hello Kitty 50th anniversary
2024 will be the year Hello Kitty celebrates her 50th anniversary. While the celebrations are in full swing, we took some time to talk to Silvia Figini, COO Sanrio EMEA, India and Oceania, about all the collaborations the world-famous character has entered into over the years. We found out first-hand about the strategies behind them and, above all, which brand values have fascinated which partners.
-From the first collaborations with Diesel or Ladurée, Liberty and Smart, to the recent Balenciaga, Furla or Adidas. These are just a few of the collaborating brands with Hello Kitty. Several questions come to mind, but first of all, how did you manage to produce such a huge number of collaborations at a time when the world did not even know what collaborations were?
-We can say that Hello Kitty is one of the characters that made the history of licensed collaborations. For 50 years now she has been among the best known and loved characters of all generations throughout the world and has become an undisputed pop icon, especially in the fashion industry.
Collaborations have always been a backbone of Sanrio’s brand identity, and they surely represent one of the main features of its positioning strategy. In fact, we were among the first to understand that strategic collaborations, with brands of global relevance, could bring to innovative projects able to increase media exposure, the value of products, as well as consumer trust and could help expanding the reference markets.
As per Hello Kitty’s motto “You can never have too many friends” and starting from one of the most important values of the brand – friendship – Hello Kitty opened herself to the world of co-branding already in the early 2000s, with the first collaborations with international brands and celebrities such as Swarovski, Kimora Lee Simmons, Tarina Tarantino, Stussy or Tokidoki.
– It seems impossible to unite partners as diverse as Kiss and Blumarine, Agip and Nike: what links them to Hello Kitty?
– As I was saying, Hello Kitty is not just a character, but an icon, and as such manages to combine important and fundamental values, such as friendship, cuteness and inclusivity, with a simple, immediate and original aesthetic. She does not need to speak to express herself and immediately transmits universal values that are shared with the partners selected for collaborations.
For Sanrio, shared values are an important reason behind the choice of collaborating with a partner, together with the desire to continue to amaze its different audiences. Fans are always looking for a daily bond with the brand, which is expressed in its ability to influence the consumer’s lifestyle and stay by their side in the different moments of life. And it is on this brand affinity that most of Sanrio’s collaborations were grounded. If we think of historical collaborations such as Vans and Sephora, to the more recent ones, such as Adidas and GCDS apparently distant from Hello Kitty, we always find a common denominator, be it linked to the childhood nostalgia, to the simplicity of the features, to the need to express concepts of positivity and welcome or even to hit fans with unconventional combinations.
We firmly believe that the main reason of the huge success of Hello Kitty’s products is the careful and timely selection of partners and the constant mutual exchange with them. Everything starts with the brand pitch, which is crucial for developing consistent proposals and marketing communications aligned with common brand values.
-Assuming that creativity is the basis of any collaboration and that a careful blend of aesthetics is the golden rule, what has been your experience?
-Co-branding campaigns must start from mutual respect and a shared willingness to ‘break the mold’. When two brands decide to share a collection, a launch, a campaign, they must necessarily collaborate openly and accept different needs, modifying, if necessary, some of their usual guidelines.
The Hello Kitty brand, historically, has always offered extreme flexibility to its partners and this allowed the opening to co-branding in times when licensing companies were still very focused only on themselves. This new approach therefore allows us to renew, diversify and broaden the possibilities for partnerships. Sanrio has always deemed essential developing its content starting from the high variety and versatility of its graphic proposals. The graphic offer is constantly updated considering market trends, while remaining faithful to the original style icon represented by Hello Kitty.
Naturally, product quality control and compliance with guidelines remains fundamental and forms the basis of co-branding agreements. Each brand must remain true to itself and the strength of co-branding is rooted in the effective fusion of different realities carefully selected upstream. Both parties must keep in mind that successful co-branding can create a very strong bond between the two brands for a long time.
Sanrio has always found innovative and different collaborations, not only with fashion brands but also with accessories brands, such as Chloè or Balenciaga, or even with other characters (IP X IP), among all Naruto x Hello Kitty and Friends or Pusheen x Hello Kitty or the most recent Attack on Titan x Hello Kitty and Friends.
– The collaboration scene is evolving and the last 10 years, since you celebrated Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, have been a goldmine of opportunities. How have these new opportunities affected your activations?
-As previously mentioned, Hello Kitty perfectly adapts to all trends, and that happens precisely because of her uniqueness, the simplicity of her shapes and her specific traits, which make her unmistakable.
The brand has managed to remain relevant for almost 50 years in all the traditional categories, such as fashion, toys and stationery but during the last decade we have learned to think outside the box and to embrace the cultural changes of our society, adapting to the new digital era, thanks to a progressive evolution, which was of course true to the brand but at the same time aware of the world transformations.
Some clear examples are the partnerships with Nintendo for Animal Crossing or with Roblox and Fall Guys that 10 years ago would have been unbelievable.
Thanks to Hello Kitty’s role as a representative of POP culture, it is possible to create unique collections and transform garments into extravagant looks and provide stylists with a fun and unique touch, sometimes irreverent with a vintage and modern flavor at the same time.
Hello Kitty has always expressed herself in a unique and unforgettable way. Indeed, through her few but specific and distinctive features, which characterize her, she has always managed to achieve her main goals: promoting friendship, kindness, and above all, bring as many smiles as possible to all her loving fans.
– So we are expecting a new list of partners to celebrate Hello Kitty’s anniversary in 2024. Can you reveal anything to Brand Jam?
-Last week we announced the kick-off of the epic celebrations for the upcoming Hello Kitty’s 50th anniversary. In anticipation of this major milestone on November 1, 2024, the coming year will be filled with ways to celebrate in both the digital and physical worlds and will be highlighted with many surprises along the way.
For nearly five decades, Hello Kitty has inspired generations with her message of friendship, kindness, and inclusivity and for her anniversary Hello Kitty wants to promote friendship with everyone in the world – including in the digital space: several digital promotions will be released throughout the year, reaching both existing fans and new generations that continue discovering Hello Kitty online as well as unique collaborations, limited edition, commemorative products, YouTube content.
We will introduce new digital tools including an Augmented Reality app, some enhancements in the Roblox integration as well as monthly promotions on the Roblox platform in My Hello Kitty Cafe, and a presence in the digital world of Zepeto, the popular platform renowned for its customizable 3D avatars and social networking.