Thoughts of Sesame Street have been percolating in my brain lately. Maybe it is the recent celebration of the 40th anniversary of the shows premier in Nov 1969. I also recently cleaned out many of my children’s outgrown toys and found myself a bit sad to pack up a set of puppets representing the entire muppet cast of the show.
You see I was an original Sesame Street fan. I was born shortly after the show’s premier and literally received my pre-school education in front of my parents Zenith console TV watching Big Bird and the gang everyday. When I reminisce about childhood with most of my Gen X counterparts the their stories are often very much the same.
So I was a little off put at a recent Thanksgiving celebration to hear a friend’s husband, only a few years older than me, remark “I am not sure why they needed to make 40 years of that show. Why couldn’t they have just made 2 or 3 seasons teaching all the letters and numbers and just keep replaying those. Its not like kids would know the difference.”
Blasphemous words against my beloved Big Bird! Cancelled after 2 or 3 seasons! Kids wouldn’t notice! Having read Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion of the impact of Sesame Street a few years ago in his book The Tipping Point, I set straight my friends husband about the “sticky” (Gladwell’s word) way Sesame Street revolutionized children’s programming.
But as I said thoughts started percolating in the Marketing center of my brain. What could the 40 year success of a children’s educational show teach us about brand management? Here is what I came up with.
Consistent Mission & Values
Sesame Street is nothing if not consistent in its mission. From their website their stated mission is:
We are committed to the principle that all children deserve a chance to learn and grow; to be prepared for school; to better understand the world and each other; to think, dream and discover; to reach their highest potential.
I think there is little doubt that the Sesame Street brand has stayed true to its mission for these many years. Originally their target audience was identified as low-income preschoolers but by broadcasting over public airways to all homes that audience grew to include children and families at all income levels. They adopted their mission statement to include all children but the core messages of learning and exploration has remained the same.
Evolution into new media
Check out the Sesame Street website. This is an organization embracing new media. If your child missed an episode you can download a podcast! Want more reinforcement for your child on sorting, Bert informs you when you open the home page that today’s activity is sorting penguins and pigs. Not to mention their 11,000+ Facebook fans and 1,800 Twitter followers.
On-line games and educational software has progressively reached a younger and younger audience. Sesame Street’s presence on line allows children to get familiar with the basics of mouse and keyboard operations and reinforces the same pre-K concepts taught through the show but in a more “on demand” format. So the child whose schedule doesn’t conform to the 9am broadcast by the local PBS station can still benefit.
Sesame Workshop (the non-profit behind the show) also offers a number of resources for parents and grown up fans of the show. These resources serve to enhance caregiver knowledge and enable reinforcement of the concepts children learn on the show.
Adaptable to changing times
Sesame Street is now seen in over 140 countries! So while the number of letters in the alphabet hasn’t changed in 40 years the number of alphabets being taught has grown tremendously.
Sesame Workshop has also adapted the show to both cultural and societal issues through the years. The South African version of the show features an HIV positive muppet to reflect the impact fighting HIV / AIDS has on the every day lives of preschoolers in that region. Even the original US version has featured topical family situations such as job loss and military deployment to help children understand and relate to those issues.
As marketers we strive to create brands and messages that “have legs”. We want our products and services to reach a certain level of awareness that makes them top of mind in relation to keywords or queries in our space. Creating a brand that stays top of mind for a decade much less 4 decades would be a triumph we all covet. Perhaps in doing so we need to look no further than our earliest educational training and follow the wisdom all the way to Sesame Street.