LicensingSource.net catches up with Netflix’s senior director of consumer products Filippo Zuffada to talk about the streaming giant’s recent fashion collaboration with Lacoste, why fan art can spark great product ideas, and how – with Queen Charlotte having logged over 148m hours viewed during the first week of its release – the Bridgerton IP remains “hugely important” to the company’s licensing programme.
Can you tell us a little about your career history and how you arrived where you are now?
I started as a journalist in Italy; storytelling was and still is my passion. Then I relocated to the US, where I was a producer for Disney ABC in the news space before moving to the business side of things, and then moving back to Italy. I’ve been working in streaming since 2011; I started out building a local version of Netflix, so when Netflix reached out to me, I thought the opportunity to join the company was a life-changing one. I was a fan of the company, I’m still a huge fan of the company, and my role now is to serve the fans; fandom is at the heart of what I do on a daily basis. It’s also the motivation for me and for my team, to really try to push the boundaries – not to innovate for innovation’s sake, but in order to reach people in different ways that are meaningful for them.
What’s happened in the two years since you took on your current role, and what are your core goals?
I started in this role in 2021, and I really took up the challenge to build a new vertical for us. It was basically a team of one, and now there are more than 20 of us focusing on consumer products. The opportunity for us is to entertain all the fans that we have on the service, and it has been a pretty amazing ride so far because we have found great partners along the way.
On the high street, Primark has just launched its Bridgerton sleepwear and lifestyle collection; I went into my local branch recently to check if I could find some ceramics and they’d sold out*. Then there’s our apparel partnership with Stradivarius – different concept, different positioning, but same IP.
If you look at like our overarching philosophy as a company, it’s to entertain the world. Consumer products are a very powerful tool to extend that entertainment, and a great way to connect with fans and consumers and help them to connect with each other. Our consumer products programme puts fandom and storytelling at the centre in a way that I think is quite distinctive. We try to be for everyone, and we try to be everywhere. We don’t want to be elitist in our consumer products or our service. Yes, you’ll see collaborations with luxury brands like Balmain [for Stranger Things], but you will also see more accessible ones. We’re aware that not everybody has the same purchase power or the same preferences.
How did your recent partnership with Lacoste come about, and how successful has it been?
The idea for the Lacoste collaboration came about two years ago – probably during my first couple of weeks in this job. We were looking at the different brands that we would love to work with, and on our dream list was Lacoste, because their positioning, their heritage and their identity as a French brand that is truly global, really resonated with us. We liked the fact that we could tell Netflix’s stories with a partner who is from Europe, but whose reach and global audience aligned with ours.
We love the way that the Lacoste team, along with our team, figured out the storytelling behind the partnership to celebrate their 90th anniversary in a way that is truly innovative. I’m wearing a Lacoste t-shirt right now, and as you can see, the iconic crocodile has been turned into a Demogorgon. [Other designs include a crocodile in a giant wig, celebrating Bridgerton’s Queen Charlotte, and in a striped anorak, a nod to Sex Education’s main character Otis.]
A lot of brands are very protective, whereas we truly had no boundaries; we were free to interpret this collection in the way we thought was best for the consumer, and the Lacoste creative team has been incredible to work with. The marketing execution across the globe has been impressive to see – kudos to the Lacoste team for pulling it off. I keep getting pictures from everywhere in the world, whether it’s Singapore, Mumbai or the high street here in the UK. The collection is pretty much everywhere.
Would you say apparel is a key focus for you?
We want to be able to serve people in a way that is fast enough to make sure that we are relevant in the moment that they want to express their fandom, and fashion allows us to do that. Lead times in this industry are very important, and fashion is one sector that can definitely spot a trend and put it out there in the quickest way. It’s not our main category, per se.
For us, the growth in food and beverage has been incredible. We have had some very successful case histories in the US, and we did a big collaboration recently in Italy with Ferrero Rocher for Stranger Things S4 Easter eggs, which generated hundreds of millions of views on TikTok. There’s a big opportunity in food and beverage to create extensions of shows at price points that offer great value, and we want to do more in that sector in the future. But ultimately, we want to be wherever people are willing to be entertained, whether that’s with physical products, with experiences, or content on screen.
Fandoms can be very protective of ‘their’ properties. How do you keep abreast of what they want, and deliver that in a respectful way?
We have a lot of ways to read the signals. Things like fan art allow us to understand what’s authentic, and what is meaningful to the fans. You can’t engineer fandom and passion like that, so we don’t try to chase every trend. Instead, we ask ourselves, where can we see a manifestation of this passion? And how can we translate it in a product that is meaningful for them? And how can we be present in moments that are important for people? If you look at a lot of the things that we are doing, they have been initiated by the fans. Stranger Things Day, on 6 November, wasn’t something someone at Netflix came up with; it happened organically.
Retailers are having their struggles at the moment. How much support are you able to give them when it comes to licensed consumer product ranges?
The big opportunity for Netflix, and for the retailers who collaborate with us, is the concept of bringing more entertainment to the retail space. If we can bring joy to people where they go shopping and create another opportunity for them to visit the store and find something they love, that will build brand loyalty and a stronger connection over time for both us and our retailer partners. I think it’s a very, very interesting time now, there’s a chance to reinvent things a little bit and to try out new things.
We’ve done some very interesting activations with Asda for Stranger Things S4, we have done exciting things with Carrefour in France for multiple titles, and we recently launched our new Bridgerton ranges with Stradivarius and Primark. But even with grocers, I think there’s an opportunity to go much broader now, for example, with items like ceramics and the Bridgerton IP. The Lanesborough Hotel in London runs a Bridgerton Afternoon Tea and there’s an opportunity to bring those sorts of experiences to everybody, not just people in central London, but those in different European countries, and at a price point that is reasonable. We want to be for everybody.
We’ll be at Licensing Expo, of course. This year, our presence will be different from previous years in terms of visibility, and we’re expecting to be busier than at previous shows. It’s an interesting moment in our trajectory in terms of developing consumer products, so we’re going to be hopefully having great conversations with partners who are going to love some of the things that we’ll be presenting for 2024/25, and even further down the line.
In terms of IP, Bridgerton is going to remain hugely important for us, not only in the UK, but more broadly. One other thing that I’m very excited about is One Piece; it’s a great anime, a great manga. We’ll be presenting it in Vegas.
Finally, of all the things you’ve achieved over the past two years, what resonates most for you?
The biggest treat for us is when we see people happy, or when they’re moved by something that we’ve done. I was in Milan two days ago to open our new pop-up store there, and seeing the kids and families celebrating Stranger Things was so rewarding. Then yesterday, my team and I went to the Lanesborough Hotel to try their Bridgerton Afternoon tea. There was a lady there who was celebrating her birthday with her family, and someone on my team noticed and took over some of the things that we have developed for our retailers. She started to cry, because she’d wanted to go to the Tea the previous year and couldn’t, and it meant a lot to her. That kind of emotional attachment to the content is what’s really meaningful when it comes to consumer products. It’s not about making a quick buck. For Netflix, it’s about integrating the fandom and finding ways to connect to people in a meaningful way.
(* Some items are still available online or in selected stores.)