Happy Birthday Sesame Street: Here’s to 50 Years of Living Your Vision and Levelling the Playing Field
Teeny little super guy, pops right up before your eye, he’s no bigger than your thumb, snap your fingers here I come.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one…
‘Teeny Little Super Guy’ was my favourite segment on Sesame Street. A growly, cartoon man living on a plastic cup in the kitchen, who taught his other kitchen utensil mates – and, of course, those of us watching at home – about the importance of sharing, trying, striving, being safe, being brave and looking after each other.
Anyone not born in the early eighties should immediately look him up on YouTube, I promise you won’t be sorry.
This year, Sesame Street turns 50. It’s a huge achievement and a true cause for celebration in the fickle world of entertainment.
Sesame Street was born out of the idea that too many children in America were starting school already behind. The creators of the show used the universal medium of television to entertain and educate children, to help them feel ready and confident when they headed off to school.
Instead of setting the show in an idealised suburban environment, they built a vibrant, positive, urban world called Sesame Street. It was a world full of children and adults and puppets from all walks of life, one that looked like the streets and apartment blocks so many children were growing up in yet never got to see on tv.
From muppets who were HIV-positive, or autistic or experiencing homelessness, to showing blended families and gender fluid characters, Sesame Street has always embraced and represented diversity alongside teaching kids about shapes, numbers, letters, music and so much more.
At 50 years strong, it is an approach that obviously works, and one that got me thinking about what brands can learn from its success.
For me, the short answer is know why you are doing what you are doing. That is the way I view the role of a brand’s Vision.
As businesses grow they tend to morph – sometimes out of necessity. Sometimes out of opportunity. They find themselves doing things they didn’t expect, in places they hadn’t planned, for audiences they weren’t aware they’d ever have. When you are committed to a strong and authentic Vision, you will still have these challenges and opportunities but it will be easier to make the right decisions about them.
Sesame Street’s vision is to “help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger and kinder”.
It has the four, key ingredients I believe every vision should have.
A Vision should be really clear and as singular as possible. It should help you focus and prioritise.
Sesame Street’s Vision tells me they are focused on children and they prioritise development and relationships. The adults are there to support, not be the heroes, and every one of their segments has either an educational or relationship learning moment - often both.
A Vision statement is not a description of your day-to-day activities. It is not something you can ‘tick off’ once completed.
A Vision should be big, it should be challenging and it should be something that will really make a difference to your audience.
Sesame Street’s Vision states the change they want to continue creating in the world. It doesn’t use the words ‘education’, ‘television’, ‘muppets’ or ‘segments’. It doesn’t limit them to a medium or a style. All of these things are the ‘how’, not the ‘why’.
The idea of ‘purpose-driven brands’ is a very hot topic right now. It has become a lofty ideal, something separate and aloof that businesses are being urged to find. Well, if you didn’t have a purpose beyond making money in the first place, good luck ever ‘finding’ it.
If your business doesn’t deliver something that will genuinely help your audience in some way (even if they have to pay for it), it is unnecessary and will eventually fail or be replaced.
Sesame Street was born out of the genuine need for all children to learn, to be valued and to be ready for school. Their Vision articulates their commitment to delivering on this need, meaning as long as they stay that course they will always be relevant and required.
I really like to challenge the brands I work with to come up with a Vision that is never-ending – one that won’t ever be fully achieved but can always be their north star.
Sesame Street’s use of ‘smarter, stronger, kinder’ creates a never-ending goal. You can always help children learn more, be more resilient and prepared, and build better, kinder relationships with others.
A never-ending goal inspires you to challenge your business, to plan, to innovate, to continuously do better and be better. Which is not just a recipe for success and the right thing to do by your audience, but also an incredibly exciting and satisfying way to run a business.
So, here’s a suggestion for the week ahead – flick on ABC Kids at 9.30am one day this week and re-discover the magic of Sesame Street. Raise your morning coffee to a hero and a stalwart of childrens’ television and development, and be inspired by a brand that started with a necessary Vision and continues to change the way children see and understand themselves and the world. For the better.
And if you don’t have the luxury of a tv break at work, head over to YouTube. Teeny Little Superguy is waiting for you…