What The White House and Sesame Street Can Teach Us About Online Marketing

In case you missed it, First Lady Michelle Obama recently appeared in a Billy on the Street video (along with Big Bird from Sesame Street) to talk about the Eat Brighter! campaign. 

The initiative is a partnership between the White House, Sesame Workshop, and the Produce Marketing Association to get kids to eat healthy fruits and vegetables. The video is cute, fun, and shareable, and it got me thinking about the many unusual online initiatives of both Sesame Workshop and the White House.

Sesame Street

Over the years, Sesame Street has released a number of hilarious videos on YouTube that are primarily aimed at adults.

Of course, Sesame Street also posts a number of great clips from the show featuring celebrities and pop culture parodies, like this one featuring Macklemore and Oscar the Grouch. These show segments are a great way to get parents to watch Sesame Street with their kids and in turn encourage discussion and reinforcement of the show’s concepts.

These show clips are great, but I want to talk about the videos that are specifically made for YouTube, the ones that never appear on the show. There are tons of examples, from Grover’s Old Spice parody:

to Cookie Monster’s SNL audition:

to Caroll Spinney and Big Bird’s version of Birdman:

These online videos aren’t inappropriate — Cookie Monster certainly doesn’t curse or anything — but they are clearly aimed more at adults than children. They are quite trendy and funny, and generally feature the more nostalgic, old-school characters who are still around instead of newer faces like Abby Cadabby or Murray Monster.

The company takes a similar approach with its Twitter account. Clearly there aren’t a lot of preschoolers on Twitter. Instead, the show tweets about everything from upcoming Sesame happenings (The Cookie Thief movie), to Oscar’s opinion about the Oscars (as usual, he wasn’t impressed). Honestly, I’d have to say that Sesame Street is generally the most entertaining thing in my Twitter feed.

This online presence helps to keep Sesame Street current and relevant in the minds of adults, and hopefully remind them to encourage their preschoolers to watch the show. Sesame Street is in the unique position of having a ridiculously strong brand image and brand trust. Pretty much everyone under the age of 50 grew up watching the show. Adults are already familiar with the show and its goals, and have a strong affinity for the characters and the brand. When people watch these videos, they already understand the context. The online videos and Twitter feed are a way for Sesame Workshop to step outside of their usual primary audience (preschoolers) and target their secondary audience (parents).

The White House

Both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have made a number of appearances on various online platforms to promote different initiatives. President Obama has primarily targeted millennial-skewering platforms to talk about signing up for health care. He has been on Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis:

a BuzzFeed video using a selfie stick:

and The Colbert Report:

(And yes, Colbert’s show is on cable television, but like many others, I watched the clip online after it went viral.)

Much like the voter registration people who were camped outside the midnight showing of The Dark Knight when I went back in 2008, President Obama is going to where young adults already are in order to get the message out about signing up for his health care program. His appearances are slightly off-brand — he wouldn’t make goofy faces during the State of the Union — but generally funny, good-natured, and humanizing. President Obama is using online media to target a specific message to a specific demographic.

The First Lady has mostly made appearances to generate awareness for her Let’s Move! campaign to combat childhood obesity. She has been featured “Mom Dancing” on Jimmy Fallon:

posing with a turnip in a Vine video:

and in a video with her husband kicking off the #GimmeFive challenge:

#GimmeFive celebrates the 5th anniversary of Let’s Move! and challenges people to name five ways to be healthy. Celebrities like Beyonce and the NASA astronauts have already responded with online videos.

By employing various fun and shareable online trends, Michelle Obama is spreading the word about healthy living and encouraging others to join in.

Let’s get back to the Eat Brighter! campaign. It’s a marketing initiative that has Sesame Street characters featured on produce packaging to encourage healthy eating habits in preschoolers, a goal that has been a focus both on Sesame Street and at the White House. While the team could have just dropped a couple of mostly ignored press releases, they instead partnered with Funny or Die to make the Billy on the Street video. The video is funny, kind of weird, and very shareable, and will hopefully build awareness among parents about the campaign.

Big Bird, FLOTUS, & Billy