You may have noticed Google’s ongoing tribute to Sesame Street this week – featuring iconic characters such as Big Bird, Bert & Ernie, Cookie Monster and Elmo. Yesterday’s homepage showcased The Count, which really got me thinking about the number of ways that Sesame Street has influenced our lives over the years.
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell analyzes the ‘Stickiness Factor’ of Sesame Street, explaining how the makers of the show use robust research to tailor programs that are able to hold the short attention span of their target audience. By employing repetitive messaging, writers are able to actually have the kids walk away remembering something. But I think Sesame Street’s significance goes beyond letters and numbers and segment recall.
Its content and characters have often served as a supplement to pop culture and a political meter of the times. Remember when Mr. Hooper died of AIDS, and the scandal behind Bert & Ernie living together? Or when stars like Michael Jordan, Gloria Estefan or even Chris Brown were featured? You know you’ve made it in Hollywood if you end up sitting on the stoop on Sesame Street, chatting it up with Big Bird and Elmo.
One of my most recent favorites was when Feist appeared to perform a re-make of her song “1,2,3,4”—revised to count to the number four with Monsters and Penguins on the show. The producers of Sesame Street understand that kids these days absorb far more media than children thirty (or even ten) years ago. To acknowledge this new attentiveness to media, they are integrating elements of pop culture and technology back into their show to keep viewers engaged.
Just take a look at the show’s website: They understand that kids are online early, and have developed a host of interactive games for children (along with tools for parents). Elmo’s Keyboard-O-Rama keeps children engaged by reacting to the letter or number they press on their computer keyboards. There is even a customizable section for you and your child.
From the beginning, Sesame Street has excelled at creating characters that people develop lasting connections with. I still feel connected to the characters on the show, and still wonder if anyone will ever believe Big Bird that Snaffalupagus exists. But it’s the show’s winning mix of endearing characters and cultural relevancy that makes it uniquely successful.
Whether Sesame Street employs pop culture (as with Feist’s “1,2,3,4”) or pop culture employs Sesame Street (as with this interesting post outlining five blogging techniques that one can learn from the show, there’s no doubt that the show continues to stay current.
From marketing proof for Gladwell’s "Stickiness Factor" to CopyBlogger’s social media lessons, Sesame Street’s reach continues to defy the rules of children’s programming (whilst still creating genuine, lifelong connections).
Happy 40th Anniversary Sesame Street!
Check out Big Bird’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live: