Episode 46

Sesame Street

What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT.  I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’.  This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying. 

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip…I’ll give you a hint: 

Think Tickle Me Elmo, the doll that triggered riots at stores during the 1996 Christmas season!

Show Notes (click to expand)

Before the reveal, I’d like to say that I believe brands that know their PURPOSE – their “WHY” as Simon Sinek likes to say – stand the test of time and become icons. I’ve done episodes on quite a few of these brands – Starbucks, SPANX, Apple, Ben & Jerry’s and Oreo to name a few!

Well the next “ICONIC” brand I’m sharing today is Sesame Street. Since its start in 1969, Sesame Street has remained extremely relevant because the brand’s purpose is at the heart of everything they do: To help children become better prepared for school…AND life with a TV show that reaches 150 million children across the globe. Today there are more than 150 versions of the show being produced in 70 languages.

Sesame Street was unlike anything kids had seen on TV before, with its brownstone stoop set, complete with graffiti and garbage cans under the front windows  – all designed to look familiar to inner-city kids. Add to this its mixed-race cast, which at first, was not universally accepted. For example, in 1970, Sesame Street got banned for a month in Mississippi because of its ahead-of-its-time diversity.

Since my childhood, Sesame Street has been teaching kids problem solving skills and life lessons, all while singing some unforgettable song lyrics, like some of my favorites that I will sing, “Sunny Days Sweeping The Clouds Away” or “Rubber duckie you’re the one, you make bath time lots of fun.”

Kids have loads of fun with the silly Muppets characters they relate to  (created by Jim Henson by the way) like Bert, Ernie, Oscar, Big Bird, Kermit the Frog and the diva herself Miss Piggy, to name a few!

Sesame Street has featured some amazing pop-culture icons along the way, like John Legend, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tina Fey, Adam Sandler, Lin Manuel Miranda and Beyonce!

 “Sesame Street has always been real-world,” says Sherrie Westin, President of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind the Sesame Street brand. Sherrie also shared the following:

 “It’s not a fantasy, it’s not a fairy tale. One of the things that sets Sesame Street apart is respecting children and dealing with real-world issues from a child’s perspective.”

For example, when the actor who played the shopkeeper Mr. Hooper died in 1982, Sesame Street chose to address his death head-on. When Big Bird asked the grownups on the show where he went, they explained that he was gone forever, but it would be okay.

Sesame Street has also found ways for its Muppets characters to help guide children through challenging situations. This led to many new characters over the years joining the (quote-unquote) party. There’s:

Kami, an HIV-positive Muppet.
The brother, sister Muppets duo Zari and Zeerak who promote gender equity in Afghanistan.
Lily, the first homeless Muppet, who explains that she does not always have enough food and must go to the food pantry with her family.
Alex, a Muppet whose father is in prison, and that makes him feel sad, angry, and ashamed.
Rosita, the first Muppet of Hispanic descent.
AND

Julia, the first Muppet on the autism scale.
What makes Sesame Street so special is that everyone is accepted exactly as they are. The brand has always shown that differences should not only be accepted, but also embraced. No one on Sesame Street is ever alienated.

While Elmo and Oscar have helped millions of preschoolers master their 1-2-3s and ABCs, these friendly, furry monsters also promoted the idea of building healthy bodies in addition to healthy minds, a response to the child obesity crisis in America.

Even Cookie Monster had to confess that his favorite chocolate chip treats were only a “sometimes” food, thereby encouraging kids to practice healthy eating and moderation:

For example, in a 2012 episode, Cookie Monster is offered carrots to eat while waiting for a batch of cookies to finish baking. CARROTS – OH BOY! Mario Lopez comes storming in as a news reporter, claiming that Cookie has become the “Veggie Monster”. Cookie sings “Me Am What Me Am” to explain that he’s still Cookie Monster, even though he does eat vegetables.
Although Sesame Street continually evolves to reflect what is currently happening across the globe, the lessons of math, reading, life skills, diversity and above all, embracing INCLUSIVITY are areas where Sesame Street has remained consistent over five decades. 

We live in a world where everyone deserves to be valued. This is why embracing diversity and being INCLUSIVE is the one area where Sesame Street has always excelled.

Sherrie Westin, said the following:

“Sesame Street has a long history of using the power of media, storytelling, and Muppets to not only provide quality early education to many who don’t have access, but also to model behaviors and change hearts, minds, and social norms.”

Sesame Street has successfully mastered the courage to tackle the most uncomfortable issues kids will face as they grow up. In my opinion, kids don’t even realize they’re experiencing these “learning” moments…and that’s largely due to the extraordinary magic of the Muppets Characters themselves. They’re lovable, huggable and enjoyable creatures that know how to drive the emotional connection needed to make life’s challenges easier to handle. 

I’ll sum the brand up this way! Using entertainment, Sesame Street drives INCLUSIVITY by keeping up with the educational, social, and cultural challenges of its young audience!

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

Your product is NOT your brand.
Your brand is your Core Value…AND
You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.
Sesame Street uses their TV Show to drive their Core Value of INCLUSIVITY.
So the next time someone asks you, “Can You Tell Me How to Get How To Get To Sesame Street?”, remember this: 

INCLUSIVITY is how Sesame Street SCORES!

I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

#28: DENTYNE (LAUNCH 3/29/21) 

What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT.  I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’.  This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying. 

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So before we turn to today’s brand clip…I have a question for you: 

IS BAD BREATH ON A FIRST DATE A DEAL BREAKER?

It’s pretty safe to say that bad breath can really put a damper on your dating life, especially your first date.

One of the goals of a first date is to see if there is chemistry. Some of the signs of great chemistry include easy conversation, similar senses of humor, common life goals etc.. All of these factors can begin building the foundation to a great romance. 

BUT….

…no matter how amazing that date goes, there’s no bigger deal-breaker than going in for that first kiss and being met with halitosis….what a nasty word by the way.

Bad breath is a natural fear of many in the dating scene. 

In fact:

A 2013 survey for National Fresh Breath Day found that 67% of British men and women deemed bad breath to be the ultimate first date turnoff.
AND

According to a survey of 5,000 singles conducted by Match.com, 43% of the respondents said “fresh breath mattered the most” for a potential date. 
I’m definitely in this camp too. 

Now…if you’re wondering why I’m doing a podcast episode about bad breath, it’s because of today’s brand clip….the gum brand that I like to refer to as “a nuclear blast in your mouth”…and that’s Dentyne!

In 1899, a New York City druggist named Franklin V. Canning formulated a chewing gum which he promoted as an aid to oral hygiene.  Mr. Canning called his new gum Dentyne, which is a combination of the words “dental” and “hygiene”! Who knew?

Growing up I was always told that chewing gum was bad for your teeth. However, that is NOT entirely true. After spending one year doing innovation work in the gum division at Cadbury Adams, I learned that chewing sugar-free gum offers the following benefits to your oral health. 

#1 Preventing tooth decay
#2 Increasing saliva flow
#3 Whitening teeth
#4 Stress relief
AND
#5 the ONE thing we all have experienced needing a piece of chewing gum at some point in our lives to combat…and that is bad breath
Not all chewing gums are created equal when it comes to freshening breath. Some gums are fruity, some are minty and some are a combination of fruity and minty.

While minty chewing gum will always be the star of the gum category, during my time at Cadbury, new fruit flavors were driving growth and creating new opportunities. Of course, this became a concern for Dentyne, a brand primarily known for that nuclear blast of minty freshness. So we decided to go out and do focus groups to learn how we could drive innovation for Dentyne and stay true to our minty heritage.

Putting my ‘One Word’ hat on, I thought it was important to understand the business that Dentyne was in and I knew it was NOT chewing gum…that was the category they played in.

The answer to my question came from one of the teenagers who said something during one of the focus groups when asked by the moderator why he chewed Dentyne gum.

His response definitely woke me up in the backroom as I was listening:

“ Without Dentyne in my mouth, there’s NO ACTION TAKING PLACE”….and he used his hands to gesture the idea of quote-unquote “ACTION.”

When the moderator pressed him further on his answer, he then said: 

“Ma’am, you know what I’m saying…fresh breath allows me to feel good about going in for the kiss…and then some!”

That’s when the lightbulb when off in my head and I knew right then and there that Dentyne was NOT in the gum business…they were in the CONFIDENCE business. This teenager knew that a few chews of Dentyne gum gave him the CONFIDENCE to, as he would later say at the end of the groups, “GET THE GIRL”! 

The head nods from the other teenagers in the room made it perfectly clear that Dentyne would drive the CONFIDENCE they all needed to make that first-kiss a win-win for all!

As I learned more about the Dentyne brand, these focus group learnings were consistent with past advertising Dentyne did when I was growing up. Watching gum advertising in the late 70s and early 80s was like taking a masterclass in advertising jingles.

Now, I’m going to be aging myself when I say that, in the 80s, Dentyne created one of my favorite TV campaign jingles of all time called, 

“Brush your breath with Dentyne” 

All of the TV spots in this campaign followed a similar pattern with varying degrees of humor by focusing primarily on Dentyne’s breath-freshening qualities.

Two television spots drive my point home:

#1

You finally found your young prince charming…

Too bad your breath is so alarming

Brush your breath

Brush your breath

Brush your breath with Dentyne!

#2

A kiss for charity is really fine

But breath like yours isn’t worth a dime

Brush your breath

Brush your breath

Brush your breath with Dentyne!

First-dates aren’t going away….kissing isn’t going away…and neither is Dentyne gum.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

Your product is NOT your brand.
Your brand is your Core Value…AND
You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.
Dentyne uses their nuclear blast of chewing gum to drive their Core Value of CONFIDENCE.
So, the next time you’re looking for that nuclear blast of minty freshness before going in for that first kiss, remember this: CONFIDENCE is how Dentyne SCORES.

I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

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