4 Reasons Big Bird is Still Cool After All These Years


Who would have thought that the “Saturday Night Live” performer getting the most laughs this week would be Big Bird?

But there he was, all 8 feet of his yellow plumage, seated next to “Weekend Update” segment host Seth Myers, yawning because he was up way past his 7 p.m. bedtime and nearly stealing the show from guest host Daniel Craig.

Big Bird suddenly became the talk of the U.S. presidential campaign last week after Republican Mitt Romney suggested withholding federal support for public broadcasting. Romney promised he had nothing against Big Bird, but the damage was done. The next day, from Sesame Street’s Twitter account, Big Bird tweeted, “My bed time is usually 7:45, but I was really tired yesterday and fell asleep at 7! Did I miss anything last night?”

Big Bird was retweeted more than 12,800 times and has been the talk of social media and news programs ever since.

How is it that a puppet from a children’s show manages to remain so cool and so relevant — not with kids, but with grownups — after more than 40 years? The answers provide some good lessons for brands everywhere.

  1. Stay true to the brand. Big Bird doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He, like all the Muppets from “Sesame Street,” remain in character — and more important, true to their characters — no matter what situation they’re thrown into. It would have been tempting for Carroll Spinney, the main inside the bird, to knock off a few double entendres or attempt some “grown-up” humor, given the setting. Instead, he kept it clean: “I’m a bird! Tweeting is how we talk!”
  2. Know your audience. Big Bird’s appearance on “SNL” wasn’t geared to children, most of whom share a bedtime closer to his. He knew his audience was the parents of those kids, many of whom grew up watching him on “Sesame Street” themselves. He also knew his audience would never forgive him if he delivered a line not in keeping with his character.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The whole reason Big Bird’s appearance worked is because Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit production company behind “Sesame Street,” has a good sense of humor about itself and was willing to play along — as long as the brand’s integrity remained intact. That’s the sign of a strong brand.
  4. Remain relevant. “Sesame Street” has managed to do so after all these years, even with many of the same beloved characters. A child-like 8-foot bird that’s active on Twitter? Now, that’s hip.
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