Sesame Street: A Brand That Communicates Cross-Culturally

26 Oct

Since 1969, the iconic brand Sesame Street has had a positive influence on American children – teaching them about different cultures, how to play with others and of course how to count and learn their ABCs.

Recently, Sesame Street took their cultural education capabilities to a new level. There has been a lot of online chatter about a new Muppet who absolutely loves her hair:

“I Love My Hair” is quickly approaching one-million views and is by far the most popular video on Sesame Street’s YouTube channel –  their videos typically average 50,000 views. This short video encourages African-American girls (and some women) to love their natural hair. Hair has been a pretty sensitive subject in the African-American community for a while so this video came at a perfect time.

While developing this encouraging piece, Joe Mazzarino – the writer of “I Love My Hair” – was thinking about his adopted Ethiopian daughter’s struggle to embrace her naturally curly hair as a 4-year-old:

At 41-years-old, Sesame Street continues to prove they understand how to communicate to different communities. This is a very challenging task that a great deal of brands still struggle with today. I commend their team for serving as cross-cultural communicators and pioneering acceptance education.


What other brands are doing a great job of communicating to different audiences?

9 Responses to “Sesame Street: A Brand That Communicates Cross-Culturally”

  1. Kerry October 26, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    I think this is a good look for Sesame Street. I remember watching the show as a kid myself and it would have been great to have a muppet that looked like me and my family on there. I certainly think that they understand that self love is a huge obstacle faced by a lot of minorities, especially African Americans. We try so hard to get the look of that model in the magazine or the celebs we see on tv instead of embracing our own natural beauty.

    In a world that’s constantly encouraging us to be fake, it’s nice to see a show encouraging young kids to be real and feel comfortble being different. Other brands could certainly learn from this.

    • ThePRNerd October 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

      I couldn’t agree more, Kerry! This is exactly why I was inspired to write about this topic from a communications perspective. While serving as the Black Student Union (BSU)vice president at UNC Charlotte, I remember discussing “good hair” with a young lady and was educated beyond my own understanding. As a male, I never paid attention to what was going on right next door in my own community. I’m glad Sesame Street tactfully tackled a sensitive subject in the appropriate manner.

  2. Jay October 26, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    Going back as far as I can remember, I always enjoyed the way that the show managed to effortlessly include different types of people from the get-go. When I was young, you had white, black, hispanic and a disabled (deaf) person and a grouch all interacting on the street. I think seeing that in action helps socialize children to diversity without being preachy.

    An interesting case though… Sesame Street also introduced and then phased out a muppet character Roosevelt Franklin. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

    So two more things:

    -Is it communicating to different audiences (base don ethnicity) or is it communicating to one broad audience (children)? One could argue the latter is more unifying.

    -Another brand that does this well? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Coca-Cola ad that doesn’t treat everyone on the same plane. Mean Joe Green tossing a kid his jersey. The multi-culti feel-good groups in its modern ads. Everyone likes a Coke, right?

    • ThePRNerd October 27, 2010 at 6:39 pm #

      Thanks for the insight, Jay! You’re right — Sesame Street always does a great job of including different types of people on the show. This Muppet stood out to me because not only was she teaching children about a different culture but she touched on a very sensitive subject in the AA community. A lot of brands are scared to touch sensitive subjects because they’re afraid of negative responses. After listening to the writer’s personal experience, I was glad he was motivated to write the song because he saw a lot of young girls in the AA community struggling to accept their natural beauty.

      In terms of who they are communicating to … I would have to say they are communicating to different audiences (based on ethnicity) and the broad audience — children. This is a very hard task to do but their team pulled it off.

      As far as Roosevelt Franklin goes, he was phased out because of the negative reactions — a lot of AAs felt he was a negative representation. Seeing how I was born in 1987, I am not too sure how accurate the perception was but the 1970s was a pretty sensitive time for a lot of AAs so I can understand why Sesame Street pulled him.

      You are right, Coca-Cola does an amazing job communicating to everyone.

  3. Steve K October 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

    Growing up as a white male, I never knew about this issue until a few years ago. A former boss of mine adopted two African American children, and she suddenly found herself struggling with their hair every morning. I had seen this song before you posted it, but I had no idea it was written by a 40-year-old white male who was in a similar situation to my former boss. It was entirely unexpected, but refreshing because it speaks to your PR point – Sesame Street does a great job communicating to all audiences, no matter who is writing the scripts.

    To address your question at the end of the post, I think most brands build their “image” rather than try to reach multiple audiences. Apple, for example, communicates a swankier lifestyle. Nike reaches an audience that wants to get up and move. Lexus preaches luxury; the list goes on and on. It almost benefits them to “exclude” audiences in an attempt to reach their base. Sort of packaging the messaging “If you buy our product, you’re with us…in our exclusive club.”

    Brands with a wider target audience like Target or McDonalds do a decent job expanding their reach, but I think Disney and Sesame Street (targeted at kids) are the most successful at addressing several audiences.

    • ThePRNerd October 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

      Great thoughts, Steve!I love the Apple and Nike examples — I wasn’t thinking that deep. Makes a lot of sense. Indeed, it is very important for brands to study audiences by psychographics. Learning consumers attitudes, values, lifestyles and opinions is a great way to reach their base.

  4. Evan Roberts October 28, 2010 at 5:49 am #

    This is a very important message for the kids now a days. I had to Google Roosevelt Franklin, but this young lady definitely out classes him. I think one of the things that makes this song so unique is it’s structure. This sounds exactly like the kind of song one of my younger cousins could make up while playing with her dolls. The human element, I think, is the most powerful part of this piece.


    • ThePRNerd October 29, 2010 at 1:51 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Evan!


  1. Top Five: October 29 – Jessica Malnik - October 30, 2010

    […] Sesame Street: A Brand That Communicates Cross-Culturally (PR Nerd) […]

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