Erika Bertoni – Head of Creative & Marketing at Sanrio – on Hello Kitty’s licensing versatility

As Hello Kitty looks ahead to its 50th anniversary in 2024, Sanrio’s Erika Bertoni discusses the enduring longevity of the brand.

Erika, it’s great to connect. To kick us off, how did you find yourself working with brands? Was it always part of the plan?
Thank you for having me. No, it was definitely not part of any plan! I started my career as a graphic designer in an advertising agency as I’ve always been fascinated by the potential for reaching people through images and slogans. This was the first step to achieving my dream of making creativity my career.

Later, I switched from advertising to product development and finally to marketing. During my career I had the opportunity to get to know deeply the world of licensing, when I worked at a licensee. Then, going from a licensee to a licensor was the most unexpected step and one that led me to work for brands of global relevance, such as the ones in the Sanrio portfolio.

As head of Creative at Sanrio, what does your job cover?
As Head of Creative and Marketing at Sanrio, I have the privilege of working with amazing brands such as Hello Kitty, Gudetama and Aggretsuko for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as India and Oceania – and the whole world for Mr. Men Little Miss.

My role involves expanding Sanrio brands through the careful definition of creative plans, which should be sensitive to the needs of the different territories and both suitable for all product categories and the various distribution channels, from the mass market to high end retailers.

“There are many licensees who want to re-interpret Hello Kitty in an original, playful, innovative, light-hearted and decidedly unique way.”

My position is also based on two crucial activities: the development of style guides and the creative support for licensees’ product development. Developing marketing and retail strategies, and implementing our 360 degrees plans, complete my role in the company.

Let’s talk style guides for a moment. What’s your process for crafting them?
Designing style guides is at the beating heart of Sanrio’s business. Indeed, it is an essential support for our partners. Sanrio’s licensees can count on a team of well-trained and enthusiastic designers, who start from analysing market trends, customs and habits, and then re-adapt them to create lovely new interpretations.

Erika Bertoni, Sanrio

You mentioned Hello Kitty earlier and this year we’ve already seen launches as varied as HYPE’s apparel collection to Hello Kitty town in Sydney. What is it about the brand that you feel fuels creativity in your licensing partners?
Hello Kitty, who is about to celebrate her 50th anniversary in 2024, is a highly iconic lifestyle brand. She’s globally recognised by all ages and boasts a large audience of loyal fans who hand down their love for the character to the next generations.

Sanrio has always deemed it essential to develop content starting from varied, versatile graphic design. Graphics are constantly updated around market trends, while remaining faithful to the original style icon represented by Hello Kitty. At the same time, we encourage partners to express their creativity through their personal and unique interpretation of the brand.

“Hello Kitty perfectly adapts to all trends precisely because of her uniqueness, the simplicity of her shapes and her specific traits – all of which make her unmistakable.”

We firmly believe that the main reason for the huge success of Hello Kitty’s products is the careful and timely selection of partners and the constant collaboration with them. Indeed, everything starts with the brand pitch. It’s crucial for developing coherent proposals and marketing communications aligned with our brand values.

Also, thanks to Sanrio’s internal creative team, it is possible to propose ad hoc solutions or even create exclusive and dedicated graphic programs, customised logos and so much more!

Erika Bertoni, Sanrio

Is there a recent product launch or experience that you feel highlights how creative licensees can be with Hello Kitty?
The last few seasons’ trends see a sort of ‘return to the origins’ for the character, with fashion collections centred around the iconic Hello Kitty image of the Nineties and early 2000s, while keeping it relevant with current styles.

We have many examples of partners who have developed cool and trendy collections, such as Just Hype or Skinnydip, or the sophisticated Blumarine.

Erika Bertoni, Sanrio

These licensees have decided to keep a simple representation of the character free from frills, details and superfluous elements. It’s the perfect way of showing the character’s true state of mind.

Also, the attention to detail, the use of sophisticated production techniques and key support for marketing activities have all contributed to the success of these collections.

Erika Bertoni, Sanrio

At the same time, there are many licensees who wanted to re-interpret Hello Kitty in an original, playful, innovative, light-hearted, and decidedly unique way. A perfect example is Irregular Choice, which, with its colorful, kawaii-detailed line of accessories and footwear has certainly been able to express the many nuances of the brand.

Erika Bertoni, Sanrio

Also, for the F/W 2022/23 collection, GCDS played with Hello Kitty and brought it to the catwalks of the Milan Fashion Week in an original and unexpected way.

Erika Bertoni, Sanrio

A brilliant line-up of examples. Thanks for talking us through them. As you’ve highlighted there, the brand is incredibly versatile – and not just in apparel. From a design perspective, why is the brand able to stretch in so many different ways?
Hello Kitty perfectly adapts to all trends, and that happens precisely because of her uniqueness, the simplicity of her shapes and her specific traits – all of which make her unmistakable. Through her few but specific and distinctive features, 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.

“The anniversary in 2024 will be a decisive moment to celebrate the brand with fans of all ages and a perfect opportunity to project Hello Kitty into the future with a new drive and enthusiasm.”

The brand has managed to remain relevant for almost 50 years in all the traditional categories, such as toys, stationery and fashion. However, it has also adapted to the new digital world, through a progressive evolution, which was consistent with the brand and coherent with societal changes.

There’s also new Hello Kitty content in the works. What can you tell us about what’s to come?
Developing new content is one of the pillars of Sanrio’s strategic development. Indeed, in the coming years there will be many important innovations for the kids’ entertainment space that will flank our existing YouTube channels in many countries. These investments will include a TV series and a motion picture, which will be a mix of live-action and animation.

Kids First has also announced its first-ever collaboration with Amazon Kids + on an original children’s program based on Hello Kitty. The two companies are creating a new TV show called Hello Kitty: Super Style! which will bring Sanrio’s global pop icon to life in a premium 3D animation. It’s a new way of engaging with kids and will contribute to the natural evolution of the brand.

Erika Bertoni, Sanrio

The anniversary in 2024 will be a decisive moment to celebrate the brand with fans of all ages, but it’ll also be the perfect opportunity to project Hello Kitty into the future with a new drive and enthusiasm.

Erika this has been great. I have one more question: How do you fuel your creativity?
As we all know, the last two years have been particularly difficult in many aspects. One of them was the difficulty to find new creative sparks in such challenging times. Creativity feeds on experiences, details, seeing faces that convey emotions and sensations, as well as trend analysis and online research.

Being able to visit trade fairs, see products in stores with your own eyes and monitor the competition are all activities that – along with the need to stay informed and updated on everything around us – enrich our creative portfolio and are essential for finding new ideas.

Indeed, a creative’s working day actually never ends!

On that, I best let you get back to it! Thanks again Erika; let’s tie-in again soon.

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