Is Sesame Street Parody The New Brand Builder?

Sesame Street as a Brand builderSesame Street, the first preschool educational programming has entertained and taught millions of children across the world. It all began on November 10, 1969 as a means of preparing young children for school and has become the longest running television program on PBS. In its early yearly years the focus was on the children and teaching them letter sounds, counting, songs that were about letters, words, counting, etc.  Nowadays, Sesame Street while still focusing on the children and the fundamentals of learning, they have added a bit of a twist that appeals to parents in their parodies of shows, commercials and the online world as we experience it.

Sesame Street’s Adaptation of Lifestyle & Television

Sesame Street premiered with huge ratings and admiration from parents and children. Television back in 1969 was not only free, there were limited channels and programs. Young children were home all day and as a parent to find something that held their attention, was educational and got them excited and talking about learning was hard to come by. Moms were home and soap operas were the rave for the front porch talk with the neighbors. Sesame Street brought change to television for children but it has not been an easy road.

Sesame Street has survived cable, competing television programs like Barney, The Teletubbies, The Wiggles as well as changes in families with working moms, single parents and preschools; and of course funding. But yet it has managed to stay on the air for 41 years. The core characters of Big Bird, Oscar, Cookie Monster, Grover and The Count have remained as staples with some new characters that attract a younger crowd but yet also to parents.

Sesame Street has always been the show that is always on. It never really makes the news, it has never changed networks, it has remained under the main stream media for years. It has attracted the biggest and best stars in the entertainment industry while continuing to educate children. Over the past 8 years or so, we have seen a shift that has addressed real life issues from single parents, adoptions, divorce, economic struggles to appealing to parents with parodies of shows that they watch. These parodies do not resonate with the children, but they laugh as the parents are laughing.

Popularity Through Parodies

When we think about a show or a public figure being poplar we think of the parodies on Saturday Night Live.The best in entertainment appear on SNL and act out skits that are entertaining and current. If you made SNL pretty much you knew you “made it” for doing something right (or wrong) but yet you still were a part of SNL. Sure there were the butt of jokes on Leno, Jimmy Fallon or the Top 10 of Letterman but yet SNL was the cream of the crop. The skit on SNL was telling as you knew that if you were on it was because you were “big” enough to have the writers write and Lorne Michaels and his team put it on air. SNL is still alive and we cannot deny we have tuned in for many of the skits, but Is it time for SNL to move over as there is a new “made it” in the works with Sesame Street?

Sesame Street Parodies as the New Brand Builder

Sesame Street has created skits albeit are educational but yet entertaining for the parents. I can remember watching with my son when I first saw the parody of Law and Order. I laughed as it had the dun dun of the music but the skit as educational with the “case as a missing letter.”  Now, the parodies have changed bit as Grover in a bathroom with a towel “Smelling Like A Monster” is a parody of the Old Spice Campaign.

The Old Spice Campaign was brilliant and to have Grover want you to smell like a monster is very telling. Sesame Street did not stop here as they also parodied Mad Men which was has to make us think – does Sesame Street build brands through their parodies?

Building a Brand Brand

A brand is the message and while all brands do what they can to get their message out to their target and have it resonate so that the consumer chooses them and remains with them is how we have seen small businesses emerge as competitors to the larger brands. Interaction with customers, positive feedback and mentions is what helps to build the brand. The consumers are buying based upon the message or the brand identity they have developed from the message. Sesame Street is identifying and building upon the identity that they have built for the brand. Old Spice having taken us by surprise and pulled us in and then leaving wanting more now has a 41 year old icon wanting everyone to smell like a monster. If that is not “making it” then what is?

Our memories of Sesame Street are alive through our children. As my son has moved on to the “big kid” shows of Sponge Bob, Johnny Test, Scooby Doo, he still wanders back to Sesame Street as Elmo’s World with Mr. Noodle and Cookie Monster eating the letter of the day never gets old!

And for me, it reminds me of when me and my sisters would fight over our favorite characters as I was a Mr. Snuffleupagus and Oscar fan (still am especially with his new friend Slimy) and my older sister was Big Bird and my younger sister was Cookie Monster. It is a family treasure I suppose.

Is Sesame Street a brand builder?

photo credit: from John McNab

  • Suzanne,

    This post brought me memories of when I was a kid in Connecticut (although I was born in Puerto Rico I lived in CT from 2 – 12 years of age). I can say Sesame help me in learning English since both of my parents spoke to me in spanish while in the house. My mom was a stay at home mom in my earlier years so she would put it on and on because I loved it. I still remember how excited I got when I use to hear the music signaling the start of the show.

    Just like you said Sesame Street is below the radar in media but embedded in our memories and hearts. It does not take me much time to identify the characters although I have not watched an episode in ages. My favorite character was cookie monster (maybe that explains my addiction to chocolate chip cookies).

    Different to Disney who is a huge business and some of us never stop interacting (with the brand) for example:

    I use to be a huge mickey and donald duck fan when I was a kid (from sesame street I moved over to the Disney Channel).
    Every once in a while we go see the new disney movie even if we don’t have kids (although that will change for me in December).
    I went to Disneyland for the first time when I was 25 years old and have gone to Disney world multiple times afterward.
    I have a Mickey sticker on my Ipad just to keep me focus on having some fun during the day (since i carry it mostly everywhere).

    I think since Sesame street does not have the capital disney has they do need to create a different environment to pull us in just like disney does. These parodies might make us adults relate and push the younger generation into watching them.

    Thank you for bringing me the memories of watching cookie monster throwing cookies and me getting the craving to have a cookie. ( I think I will have one now for breakfast) If you find me a Cookie Monster sticker I would be more than glad to put it next to Mickey on my Ipad. 🙂

  • It’s amazing to see how such shows can have a deep impact over brands perception and the collective thought of every kind of people. Being italian I haven’t had the luck to watch it but even here we have TV programs still going (of different genre) that through the decades literally shaped entire generations.

  • Suzanne,

    Awesome post. I think you really hit on something in your last paragraph. For many of us, Sesame Street represents a time of innocents and simplicity. They have built a brand that spans generations and allows all of us to relate to it in some manner.

    Many of us saw Shrek and laughed at all the jokes that children could never relate to. But what Sesame Street has done is brilliant. Where Shrek’s creators really had to stretch the characters, Sesame Street remains true to who they are.

    What we are witnessing with Sesame Street is truly beautiful. While making fun of and leverage some of our more popular icons, they are still creating a meaningful product. They are not concerned with selling stuff or cramming cheap messaging down our throats. They don’t need to. It is a lesson we as marketers and small business people can learn from.

    From day one, the Sesame Street team has been true to its mission. They sought to create and deliver entertaining and high quality educational content for children. As we develop marketing campaigns, products and small businesses, we too should be thinking about these larger issues:

    * What is our vision? How can we change the world?
    * How will our vision affect the products and services we offer?
    * Can we use our vision to inspire others to act?

    Thank you for the massively creative post,


    • Jason

      Sesame Street is a really great example of how a few changes and as you said identifying your vision, how will it change the world has made a complete difference. They are the longest running show on PBS but yet have struggled with ratings as technology evolved with cable. This actually made the show better as they are not only talking to the younger kids, but they are seeking parental involvement, which as a parent, I know makes a big difference in the lives of our kids.

      Small business owners are inundated with different marketing messages and are willing to try the next best thing to remain competitive. Jumping in with 2 feet into a deep body of water with no life vest comes to mind. They are not identifying why they are there, what goals they have and how they will accomplish them and he biggest – how it will change their business for the better. Social media is time consuming, it takes work and is so much more than sending your message out a few times a day and waiting for them to come.

      I love your 3 questions but especially the last one – can we use your vision to inspire others to act. That says so much Jason.

      As always, the comments are more thought provoking than the article but that is the beauty of a community and really smart readers.

  • Suzanne,

    My thought would be, does Sesame Street still have the same brand perception for those who watch it now.

    It seems through reading your blog post that there was the generation of ’69 who created a shared experience for future generations as they reminsed over how great the show is.

    I find it hard to believe that a preschooler who starts watching it now may have the same affirmation to the Sesame Street brand.