This is the part three of an ongoing series of articles about the future of branding and brand marketing.
In part one I presented my thoughts on using social media as billboards to point to your brand. In part two I presented some thoughts on how to set up your destination around edutainment vs. selling. Now that we’re here and your destination is set up, what does edutainment look like?
Can you tell me how to get, how to get to… I don’t even have to finish that sentence. Most of you already know how that sentence goes. I’m betting at this moment you’re thinking back to some of your favorite Sesame Street moments. For me it’ll forever be Grover exhausting himself as he explained Near and Far. Right up there with Grover as the exasperated waiter with the fly in the soup. Yes, Grover is and always will be my favorite resident of Sesame Street.
Sesame Street is edutainment. It might even be the birthplace of edutainment. Their characters are among the most recognizable in the world. The brands Sesame Workshop (formerly Children’s Television Workshop) and Sesame Street are among the most trusted in the world. Yet the program sells…nothing. Within all the stories presented on Sesame Street there is not a single advertisement, not a single push to ‘buy this’ or ‘use this.’ Whether through the humans or muppets, the stories presented to the audience educate, inform and entertain.
Now wait a minute Walt, the toys are constantly advertised and remember the craziness around Tickle Me Elmo?!?! That was pure marketing madness!
Well yes and no. The advertisements are created by the companies who license the Sesame Workshop and Sesame Street characters for their products. And from those licenses Sesame Workshop does make money. But it’s how they built their brand that makes them so trusted to their audience and valuable to license.
Since the mid-1960’s Sesame Street has built a brand that has earned the trust of millions of adults worldwide. From the beginning, Sesame Street was designed to be different, to teach children using entertainment through storytelling. The quality of the education presented as entertainment allows adults to place their trust in Sesame Street to be a safe place for their children to spend an hour or so of their day. The adults feel the program adds value to their children’s lives. The children grow to love the characters who are teaching them to count, to read and to be kind to others. Parents trust the brand, kids love the characters who represent the brand. The kids grow up, have children of their own and the cycle repeats.
There are now hundreds, possibly thousands of episodes of Sesame Street, full of stories designed to educate and entertain. Those stories have created a connection to Sesame Workshop and Sesame Street. No sales message, no hard sell, just quality edutainment. Yet Sesame Street products are purchased globally netting millions of dollars for licensees and Sesame Workshop Why? Children and parents alike seek out the Sesame Street characters because they want the characters to be a part of their lives. There is a true connection between the audience and this fictional New York City street along with the residents who live there. Not because some advertisement told us we should love that brand. But because we WANT to. No amount of advertising would bring about the tears shed when we learned that Mr. Hooper died and the sheer brilliance of how the show presented his death as a life lesson through Big Bird. It was a story that needed to be told, a lesson that needed to be shared and a defining moment in why such a large audience supports the brand that is Sesame Street.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Sesame Street by its very nature IS education. How does that relate to an ‘adult’ brand? A brand that doesn’t have super cute cuddly characters that endear themselves to children and adults alike? Glad you asked.
In the mid 2000’s I was fortunate enough to be a part of the merry band of creatives that brought you Good Eats with Alton Brown on the Food Network. Long before I joined the crew, my wife and I were HUGE fans of the show. Why? Edutainment. Every single episode of Good Eats is entertaining and has useful information. I changed the way I cook, the tools I buy (no unitaskers!), and I explore new foods all because Alton shares solid information in every episode. He often makes me and the rest of the audience say “I never thought of that.” Alton doesn’t sell anything directly. But when creating dishes he naturally shows and demonstrates products that he considers useful, and not so useful, in the kitchen. It’s not a sales pitch, it’s practical information on why something is or is not useful in making meals presented by someone who is passing along useful advice.
By simply cooking and presenting useful information that the audience can use, he has probably sold millions of dollars worth of kitchen and cooking supplies. Quality information, presented as entertainment, builds brand loyalty in Alton Brown and thus builds brand loyalty in anything he uses.
That Good Eats model of storytelling and edutainment is built for today’s digital media marketing and should be the cornerstone of the destination you’ve built for your audience. Don’t tell me to buy your product because it’s awesome. Give me a library of really useful content that I can use somehow in my life, and oh by the way, your product or service is being used while you give me that really useful information. The key here is to build USEFUL content for the audience, not infomercials. Because we can deliver content digitally to really anyone in the world, your content can be developed to appeal directly to a wide array of tastes, styles and even languages.
To tell more of that story, perhaps we should take a cruise in Part Four.