The Muppet connection

A wise, green frog once said: “Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection / The lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

Perhaps the renowned puppet should have included marketers, as well. While it wasn’t the same connection Kermit sang about in his swamp, The Jim Henson Company stressed the importance of establishing a customer connection through character creation during a session at New York City’s Advertising Week.  

“With the right character, you can make a real connection with the consumer,” said Jeremy Nocon, director of business development for The Jim Henson Company. “Our main goal is to always engage and make that connection with the audience.”

Nocon led a panel of puppet professionals, including puppeteer Tyler Bunch, production manager Jason Seck, and creative supervisor Jason Weber at the session Jim Henson’s Creature Shop – A Legacy in Character Creation for TV and Film .

While many people have formed connections with the Muppets and Sesame Street characters, the Jim Henson Company also created memorable characters for advertisements, such as the fabric softener Snuggle bear. In fact, the piano-playing canine Rowlf the Dog, originally made his debut in a Purina Dog Chow commercial, according to Jim Henson’s Red Book.

“Jim was a big believer that the medium of television was a great vehicle to reach the consumer,” Nocon said.

Bunch acknowledged that Jim Henson’s puppets add a tangible character aspect that connects well with children, but Nocon said that part of the Jim Henson Company’s appeal is being able to connect with older audiences, too. “The success of those franchises is that they resonate with people of all ages,” Nocon said.

The panel outlined the company’s creative process, including creating a character’s back story and personality, sketching the look of the character, fabricating the puppet with soft fabric materials, and bringing the character to life.

“[Clients] come to us with these very detailed descriptions,” Nocon said. “It’s our job to create a character that really personifies these traits.”

Like the rest of the marketing world, the Jim Henson Company has gone digital via its Digital Puppetry system, which allows branded characters to appear across a variety of mediums in real time.

“The characters are actually performed in real time by puppeteers,” Bunch said. “We can create a character for you in any realm.”

According to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop website, Digital Puppetry incorporates hand use, a computer, and a “digital puppet workstation” to create live images of the character. Bunch says this service allows characters to appear in real time and interact with audiences, such as for talk shows or iChat sessions.

“If something big happens in the news that day, we can actually do something that’s tailored to that day,” Bunch said.

With the Jim Henson Company’s characters popping up everywhere, from Elmo apps to video games, there’s no telling where these characters will appear next.  But as long as marketers and advertisers continue to pluck their creative strings, there will always be a spot for beloved characters.

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