How Sesame Street helps create social change
As a parent of two toddlers I recognize and appreciate the impact Sesame Street has on my (and countless other) children every day. As Malcom Gladwell once stated, “Sesame Street was built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them.”
When you turn on Sesame Street today you see the values that we know the Conscious Consumer holds dear, including health and well being through physical activity and healthy eating, as well as the environment. Entering its 43rd season, Sesame Street has also evolved by encouraging “co-viewing” with parents by adding celebrity cameos, sophisticated humor and cultural references. As this parent can attest, it works. If you can hold the attention of parents, you can educate them too, apparently.
As the show matured in the 1980s it began to stray from its primary goal of school preparation for very young children to introducing and addressing these social issues. They did this by injecting these topics into their curriculum through the same guiding principles that they had already been using successfully – modeling, repetition and humor.
In 2005, at the wake of the rise of childhood obesity, the focus of the show was on emphasizing physical activity and healthy eating under the umbrella of “Healthy Habits for Life”. Brands and marketers were quick to notice and formed partnerships that you will still notice today if you cruise the aisles of your local grocery store.
The longevity of these partnerships is a testament to Sesame Street’s prowess and the “Healthy Habits for Life” are as much a part of new episodes today as Elmo and Big Bird are. The extension of these messages has even made it to the unlikeliest of vanguards – Cookie Monster.
Cookie changed his tune and stated that “cookies are a sometimes food.” The backlash was immediate and the media ate it up (pardon the pun). In June 2008, Stephen Colbert even brought Cookie Monster on his show to explain himself.
So what will Sesame Street turn its attention to next? The curriculum on the show changes every two years, so while “Healthy Habits for Life” and the more recent themes of “My World is Green and Growing” and “STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education” are still integral to the show, the producers are adding the arts to the STEM equation this year to create STEAM.
The characteristics of Conscious Consumers are being reinforced to children via outlets like Sesame Street, growing mini Conscious Consumers who will someday consume (and likely already are) socially conscious products. We as marketers need to take notice and be nimble. As long as we can hold their attention long enough, we might be able to help educate them too.