Earlier this year, Apple aired a commercial that starred Cookie Monster, the blue treat-craving monster who is a mainstay on Sesame Street. I remember it popping up on my Facebook feed because I watched it, re-watched it, and then watched it again, each time laughing more and more.
There’s nothing complicated about the ad. Cookie Monster uses hands-free Siri to start a music playlist as he waits for cookies to bake in the oven, which as we see in the commercial feels like an eternity to the poor guy. It’s a simple set-up, and yet, it definitely connected with me, and I bet with a lot of you too.
Later this spring, I saw an episode of Sesame Street called “Still Life with a Cookie,” which prominently featured (you guessed it) Cookie Monster. Now, I loved Sesame Street when I was a kid, but there hadn’t been a reason to watch it for the last few decades until my son was born. Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, and company are the only sure-fire thing to keep my toddler entranced for a half hour; that alone makes it the single most valuable television program of my life right now (parents, can I get an amen?).
However, I have found I am drawn in each time I watch Sesame Street with my son. I laugh, and I’m pretty engaged for most of the program. That is certainly not the case with many other toddler-oriented shows. And, before you think it, yes, I do know my whole alphabet and can count pretty high, so it’s not simply the content.
It’s easy to appeal to one specific demographic. But, truly revolutionary products, ideas, companies, and, in this case, television shows and characters, have figured out a way to connect with people from vastly different backgrounds and generations. Now, everyone wants to do this. Who wouldn’t want to have more people consume their content, product, or idea? But, very few actually succeed in connecting with more than one or two groups or generations.
How Cookie Monster Can Help Expand Your Influence
Today’s blog is brought to you by the number “3.” Specifically, here are three reasons Sesame Street, along with Cookie Monster, a large yellow bird, and their large cast of characters, still appeals to me and possibly you. And maybe, as we think about why they connect with us, it will give us ideas about how to expand our influence today.
1. Start with the Heart
Sesame Street helps viewers process their feelings. It’s not simply going through the alphabet or sharing numbers, though that is an aspect of the experience. The most memorable parts are about emotions, where Elmo feels bad about hurting another monster’s feelings, or Big Bird feels excluded from a club because of his size. They are masters at taking facts and ideas they want to discuss and tying it into an emotion.
Everyone wants me to learn something – politicians, marketers, scholars, and clergy, they all seem to have something important to share. There are so many messages that most of them bounce off of me. But, there are a few that stick, and almost always it’s the result of someone doing the hard work of connecting their idea with my heart.
No matter your age or culture, you get scared, lonely, overwhelmed, overjoyed, impatient, and hungry. In the case of Cookie Monster, impatient and hungry go hand in hand. Who can’t relate to that? So, if you want to connect cross-generationally, make sure to start with the heart.
2. Cleverness Connects
On a recent episode of Sesame Street, they had a small skit called, “The Hungry Games,” an obvious parody of “The Hunger Games.” Cookie Monster, appearing as “Cookiness Ever-eat” was chosen to play games that featured food as he helped viewers understand patterns using fruit and other edibles. At the start of the contest, the television host in the skit loudly declares, “May the cookies be ever in your flavor.”
It was brilliant.
Now, my son didn’t pick up on all the jokes. He saw fruit and maybe learned a thing or two about patterns. But “The Hunger Games” references weren’t there for him. They were for me. And each time a clever reference popped up, it made me feel included, that the content creators knew I was there and what I appreciated.
This type of creativity and cleverness doesn’t just happen – it takes a lot of effort and team work to be aware of pop culture references and the likes and dislikes of different audiences. And, because it takes effort, most of us, when we’re under the pinch of a deadline, rush or ignore this sort of clever creativity.
But, if you are willing to take the time, marinate on an idea, think of different connection points you can hit in a creative way, you have a much better chance of getting lightning in a bottle, or, in this case, a Cookie Monster with an iPhone.
3. Silly is Seriously Important
Puppets are funny.
I don’t care how old you are, the sight of a furry blue monster in a chef’s hat talking in a sweet and gruff voice to Siri is hilarious.
Sometimes – maybe most of the time – we take ourselves too seriously. How are you at incorporating fun into your workplace, your home, your life? If there is anything we can learn from Cookie Monster, it’s that silliness often creates the moments (and ideas) we’re most likely to resonate with and remember.
So, set that DVR and boldly watch an episode of “the Street,” as Murray, a friendly and large orange monster refers to it as he closes the show. Not only is it a great nostalgic journey for most of us, but it also can be a great guide to understanding influence. If we could all connect with people like they do, the world will be a much better place.