Thursday, September 06, 2012

Book Excerpt: The Tipping Point

I have been on a bit of a Malcolm Gladwell kick lately. This passage in The Tipping Point about the origins of Sesame Street characters I found interesting:
Sesame Street's creators were the power of television commercials. The sixties were the golden age of Madison Avenue, and at the time it seemed to make perfect sense that if a 60 second television spot could sell breakfast cereal to a four year old, then it could also sell that child the alphabet. Part of the appeal of Jim Henson and the Muppets to the show's creators, in fact, was that in the 1960s Henson had been running a highly successful advertising shop. Many of the most famous Muppets were created for ad campaigns: Big Bird is really a variation of a seven foot dragon created by Henson for La Choy commercials; Cookie Monster was a pitchman for Frito Lay; Grover was used in promotional films for IBM.

Naturally right after reading this I YouTubed 'Jim Henson Muppets commercials'. Here's the precursor to Big Bird, the La Choy dragon, who actually doesn't look or sound anything like Big Bird.

This next one is a funny little spot called Cookie Monster-IBM Training Video.

And this is what sounds exactly like Kermit the Frog plugging Wilkins Coffee.

There's a lot more of them, some that never made it on air, but all fascinating to watch. These commercials definitely show the muppets in a darker light than the versions finally seen on Sesame Street, which makes sense since the target audience was obviously different. But pretty interesting that educating children through the medium of television was thought of as analogous to advertising or selling products to people.

Gladwell's a great writer. I'm at the point where it's hard to remember whether I read something in Blink or in The Tipping Point or in one of his New Yorker articles. Everything's kind of muddled together, which I suppose is natural given the overlap in ideas and the fact that I'm reading things back-to-back. But so far really enjoying everything I've read.

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