Imagine you’re five years old again, sitting in front of a TV one morning. Suddenly, a giant yellow bird comes on screen and starts singing about how to get to a place you’ve never heard of called “Sesame Street”.
You have no idea why, but you’re hooked!
Sesame Street has been a staple of childhood entertainment, education, and pure joy since Sesame Workshop, its overarching charity, boldly asked the question, “could television be used to educate kids” back in the late 1960s.
From the classic characters like Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Elmo, to the unforgettable songs like “Rubber Duckie” and “C is for Cookie,” Sesame Street has long captured the hearts of generations of children and parents alike. But what is it about this show that has made it so enduring despite so many changes in American pop culture over the decades?
Here we will explore the history, impact, and continued relevance of Sesame Street. From its groundbreaking approach to educational programming to its recent adaptations to the challenges of COVID-19. We’ll delve into what makes this iconic show so beloved and how it has remained a vital part of childhood for over half a century.
So, grab a cookie (or two!) and let’s head to Sesame Street!
So, what is Sesame Street, anyway?
At this point, it’s almost impossible you’ve never heard of Sesame Street. But if somehow you’ve dodged watching the show, you’re missing out on one of the most beloved and iconic children’s shows of all time.
And honestly, this parent doesn’t exactly look away during the majority of the episode – it’s that good. Sesame Street may be a TV show for children, but there’s a reason it has been on the air since 1969, and it has been educating and entertaining children plenty.
From day one, the show has always featured a diverse cast of lovable Muppet character puppets, including big yellow Big Bird, adorable little red Elmo, the ravenous Cookie Monster, and Oscar the Grouch (his name says it all, if you’re unfamiliar) alongside human counterparts that are equally as diverse.
Every episode is filled with catchy songs, fun skits, and educational content that helps children learn everything from the alphabet and counting to social skills and emotional development. They even provide resources for difficult-to-discuss issues through their “Tough Topics” section at Sesame Workshop.
I’ll say it over and over, but Sesame Street is not just a TV show, at this point it has become more of a cultural phenomenon that has had a huge impact on generations of children and families. The show has won countless awards for its educational content and its commitment to promoting kindness, empathy, and inclusion. In fact the list is so long it has its own Wikipedia page. If you think Kanye’s list of awards is long, check out Sesame Street’s.
How Sesame Street engages with their audience
Sesame Street engages with children through diverse characters, music, and humor
Sesame Street has been successful in connecting with children for so long by using a variety of engaging and effective strategies. One of the most notable ways in which Sesame Street connects with children is through its use of relatable and lovable characters, as mentioned before. You probably have a few of your own – my daughter’s is Abby.
The program has often been praised for its efforts to promote tolerance and diversity through its use of Muppets. According to an article from American University’s School of International Service, Sesame Street has introduced a variety of diverse characters over the years, including the first HIV-positive Muppet, the first Muppet with autism, and Muppets from different cultures and backgrounds.
By featuring a diverse cast of characters, Sesame Street helps to promote understanding and acceptance among children, which doesn’t always come naturally. The article from American University also notes that Sesame Street’s commitment to diversity extends beyond the United States, with international co-productions of the show featuring local Muppets and addressing issues specific to their cultures.
In addition to its varied ensemble, Sesame Street uses music and humor to connect with children in ways that are equal to where they stand. According to a study from the National Library of Medicine, music is an effective tool for engaging children and promoting learning, and Sesame Street’s iconic songs and catchy jingles have become a beloved part of childhood for many as they often serve as a memorable way to teach children important concepts.
Do you ever catch yourself counting to three and saying “Ah, ah, ah!” like The Count? Yeah, we do too.
Finally, Sesame Street uses humor and play to connect with children. Some of the side character monsters have bells or horns attached to their heads. Grover is ALWAYS acting a fool. But there’s always an educational twist. By using humor and play, Sesame Street is able to make learning fun and enjoyable for children.
Sesame Street invites Pop Stars to engage in their world
Sesame Street has a long history of featuring real-life celebrities on its show, from musicians to actors to politicians. In 1972, for example, the show featured the singer and actress Lena Horne to teach children about the concept of “skin color” and to promote diversity and inclusion. More recently, the show has featured celebrities like Michelle Obama and Lupita Nyong’o to promote healthy habits like exercise and self-esteem, and Season 53 was one of the best yet when it came to celebrity appearances.
Right now you may be asking yourself: “Self… Is there an exhaustive list of every single celebrity that has ever been on Sesame Street?” Well, Self, you’re in luck – there is. Some are really, really fun and you should seek them out! And others are not so fun, and might be skippable. But they all serve a similar, educational purpose.
In addition to promoting educational messages, Sesame Street’s use of celebrities helps to engage children and make the show more entertaining – and yes, even for adults. By featuring celebrities that children recognize and admire, Sesame Street is able to create a connection with its audience and make learning more fun.
Sesame Street Faces COVID-19
Sesame Street also made sure to engage with their core audience during one of the most challenging times in its history: the COVID-19 pandemic. With lockdowns and social distancing measures in place, the show had to adjust both its production and content to continue to reach and educate children. In response, Sesame Workshop created a special initiative called “Caring for Each Other” to provide resources and support for families during the pandemic.
One of the resources provided by the initiative was a series of videos featuring Sesame Street characters discussing COVID-19 and how to stay healthy and safe. The videos covered topics such as handwashing, wearing masks, and social distancing. According to an article in The New York Times, the videos were a hit with parents and children, with millions of views on social media platforms.
There was even a special episode filmed titled Elmo’s Playdate that aired April 14, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The episode was produced remotely and aimed to help children learn how to stay connected with friends and family while adjusting to a new way of life under lockdown. The show’s producers hoped that the star-studded episode would provide valuable lessons to children about staying connected and maintaining relationships during difficult times. The addition of celebrities like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anne Hathaway helped to make the episode even more engaging and memorable for young viewers.
In addition to the videos and episode, Sesame Workshop also provided free eBooks, printable activities, and virtual playdates with Sesame Street characters to help families cope with the challenges of the pandemic, aiming to provide comfort and support to families during a difficult time.
Sesame Street’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the show’s commitment to its audience and its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. By providing resources and support to families, Sesame Workshop has continued to fulfill its mission of educating and entertaining children while promoting kindness, empathy, and inclusion.
Even Sesame Street makes mistakes: The Cookie Debacle
In 2005, Sesame Street caused a stir when it announced plans to make changes to one of its most iconic characters, the blue monster himself, Cookie Monster. The show’s producers announced that Cookie Monster would be rebranded as the “Veggie Monster” and that he would be shown eating more fruits and vegetables in an effort to promote healthy eating habits among children.
The decision was met with mixed reactions from fans of the show, with many expressing disappointment and even outrage over the changes.
The decision to rebrand Cookie Monster came as part of a larger effort by Sesame Street to promote healthy eating habits and combat childhood obesity. The show’s producers felt that by showing Cookie Monster eating more fruits and vegetables, they could encourage children to make healthier food choices.
The move was met with resistance from many fans, who felt that the changes were unnecessary and took away from the character’s beloved personality.
After facing backlash, Sesame Street ultimately decided to keep Cookie Monster as he was, with his love of cookies and all. Overall, the decision to rebrand Cookie Monster as the “Veggie Monster” was a poor one. While the move was intended to promote healthy eating habits among children, it also highlighted the deep emotional connection that fans have with Sesame Street’s beloved characters – and how changing them after introduction may isn’t exactly part of the agreement.
If you’re wondering what he eats today? Just about everything. Cookie Monster and Gonger run a food truck and make all sorts of delicious treats. But cookies are still his favorite snack.
What you can learn from Sesame Street
While our kids are learning about the world around them through music and play, we as adults can learn valuable business lessons from Sesame Street too (you honestly didn’t think I was going to miss out on tying it back to marketing did you?)
When it comes down to it, Sesame Street has remained so successful because they have followed three basic rules:
- Keep your audience front of mind.
- Find your core brand and stick to it.
- Make sure to stay flexible and relevant.
Keep your audience front of mind
Sesame Street’s audience is children of all walks of life just looking for an opportunity to learn. Every aspect of the show is therefore directed towards those children. Through the usage of bright colors, simple catchy tunes, and the awesomeness of PLAY – Sesame Street is able to practice their service (free education) in a way that their audience (children) will understand.
So for us adults out in the working world – always keep your audience front of mind. Or another way to think of it is to consider who is your purchasing power and how can you best engage with them. Research your audience to see what social media platforms they use, where they access their news, how they value their dollar. The more informed you are about your ideal audience, the more successful your brand engagement will be.
Find your core brand and stick to it
Sesame Street’s mission statement is “to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger and kinder.” Sesame Workshop continues to state that they are a “trusted hand to help little ones reach their full potential.”
What I find special about Sesame Workshop so special is that their mission statement is visible throughout their entire brand. Sesame Street is a safe place for children to learn the building blocks of life from one another. And to ensure that kids “everywhere” benefit from the program, Sesame Street fully understands the concept of “representation matters”. If you go back and watch the compilation video of Sesame Street intros from 1969 to present, you will notice that every snippet has children of various races, ages, and abilities.
So what you can learn from this as a student or professional is to find what your core brand is and stick with it. Core brand meaning “why you are doing what you are doing.” What is your mission statement? What are your core values and beliefs as a person or business? What is your purpose?
Once you have those answers, ensure that every step you take is one honoring those core values and that core brand. And you’ll be well on your way to success.
Make sure to stay flexible and relevant
Let’s talk about that compilation intro video again. It does such a great job of showcasing Sesame Street’s commitment to their audience, core brand, and relevance. As technology improved over the past fifty years, Sesame Street incorporated that technology into their intro song while not overshadowing it.
Also, as previously mentioned, Sesame Street tackled new and complex topics as the world grew more complicated. Sticking to their core values and brand, Sesame Street stayed relevant while incorporating new muppets of varying backgrounds and circumstances. Keeping them up to date with the world around them, while still sticking to that core brand.
But even Sesame Street makes mistakes, like when they tried to rebrand Cookie Monster into the Veggie Monster.
Now for us grown ups: we have our audience and we have our core values, but we don’t want to stay stagnant. If we don’t change we don’t grow. But it is how we change that is important. Change in ways that allow you to continue reaching your audience. Change in ways that make your good or service still relevant. But most importantly, change in ways that still honor your core values and brand.
Sesame Street is not just a show; it’s a cultural phenomenon that has transformed the way we think about childhood education and entertainment. For over 50 years, Sesame Street has been a beacon of hope and inspiration for generations of children and families. It’s a truly magical world filled with laughter, love, and learning, where people of all backgrounds and abilities are welcomed and celebrated.
At the heart of Sesame Street are its characters, who have become cultural icons in their own right. From the lovable Big Bird to the mischievous Cookie Monster and the grouchy Oscar, each character has a unique personality and story that children can relate to. But Sesame Street goes beyond just entertainment – it’s a platform for social change and empowerment.
Sesame Street has always been at the forefront of promoting diversity and inclusion, introducing characters like Julia, a young girl with autism, and Zari, a girl from Afghanistan who encourages girls to go to school. The show also addresses tough topics like death, divorce, and racism, providing children with tools to navigate difficult situations.
Beyond its impact on children’s education and social development, Sesame Street has also revolutionized children’s media, using innovative approaches to storytelling, music, and technology. It has won so many awards and accolades for its pioneering efforts in children’s programming it would be hard to line an actual Sesame Street with them.
But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Sesame Street is its enduring legacy. For over 50 years, it has remained a vital part of early childhood education, bringing joy, laughter, and learning to millions of children and families around the world. Sesame Street has transcended generations, cultures, and borders, and will likely continue to do so for generations to come.
In short, Sesame Street is more than just a TV show. By now, it has become an institution that has helped shape the lives of countless children and families around the world. Its impact on childhood education, social development, and popular culture is immeasurable, and its legacy will continue to inspire and uplift for generations to come.