I know i’m pretty late to this one but I watched ‘Being Elmo’ last night. For those who are even later than I, ‘Being Elmo’ is a documentary from 2011 which follows the life of puppeteer Kevin Clash; from his childhood watching Sesame Street and making his own muppets, his early TV career and big break with Jim Henson, through to his creation of Elmo, one of the show’s most popular characters.
Now just as Brett believes all life’s lessons are to be found in The Simpsons, I think anything worth learning you can learn from The Muppets – and there are many things you can take from Being Elmo, including (but not limited to) -
- The Muppets are awesome, if you don’t like Muppets you need to have a serious word with yourself.
- Labyrinth needs remastering.
- You can achieve a lot if you have a vocation, a talent and an incredibly supportive family.
- I really want a kindly bearded man named Kermit Love to take me under his wing and teach me how to be as brilliant as he is.
- If I ever have children they are only watching Sesame Street.
- This is the saddest thing in the world…
But what of brands? This is a website about brands after all. I shall get to the point.
Let’s imagine that brands are like Muppets *she declares oh-so-Carrie-Bradshaw-like* – in particular brands need to be invested with a character in order to engage with the audience, and marketers are like puppeteers – its not just enough to put on a funny voice, they need to find the right character, and then work out the voice and behaviour to express it.
Elmo, for example, had been around for ages, and was originally more of a caveman type character that hadn’t really caught on. Sesame Street staff writer Nancy Sans describes him as “…there was this extra red puppet lying around and the cast would pick him up sometimes and try to create a personality, but nothing seemed to materialize.” So Kevin takes on the task of turning Elmo into a successful character and remembers a key lesson from Frank Oz – to create memorable characters, and be able to perform them convincingly, you need a ‘hook’; Fozzy Bear is a useless vaudevillian comedian, Miss Piggy is – quite brilliantly – a truck driver who wants to be a woman. The hook is the essence of the character that makes them unique. Clash finds Elmo’s hook by realising that he is a child, a three and a half year old that loves everyone and everything, and a worldwide phenomenon is born.
So this in an exercise in reduction. You, brand owner/entreprenuer/planner, have been given your muppet. Now you need to find the ‘hook’ that sums up its character, then you can begin to understand how it behaves.
To get started why not start by taking the “What Type are You?” quiz, to find out which of the ten challenger types you should be, and then with that in mind, come up with your voice.
If you come up with anything better than ‘a truck driver who wants to be a woman’ I salute you.
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey