Cookie Monster makes iPhone commercial. Are Muppets selling out?

Cookie Monster makes his first foray into the tech commercial world.

Apple/YouTube screenshot
This YouTube screenshot of Apple's iPhone 6s ad shows Cookie Monster instructing Siri to set a timer for his cookies without holding the iPhone. This is Cookie Monster's first foray into the tech commercial world.

Apple's new ad for the iPhone 6s shows that "C" is also for "Siri." 

The tech company has employed Sesame Street's most gluttonous Muppet, the Cookie Monster, to advertise a hands-free Siri feature on its new smartphone, as the Muppets continue a potentially risky run in the commercial world, reported Chris Matyszczyk for CNET. 

The ad shows Cookie Monster placing a batch of his trademark cookies into the oven, then asking Siri – note the monster hands-free use of Siri – to set a baking timer. Siri plays the cookie fiend his "waiting playlist" to ease the strain of waiting for cookies and generally shows off her enhanced ability to understand people who speak with an accent. 

There is no question as to why Apple would want Cookie Monster appearing in an ad, CNET writes. The tech company is currently facing the wrath of the FBI and a potential legal battle in the nation's highest courts. The company's sales growth has slowed amid talk of a saturated smartphone market. Apple is turning regularly to celebrity endorsements, from Selena Gomez to Jamie Foxx.

It may seem counterintuitive, but a decades-old, well-rounded character such as the Cookie Monster functions effectively as a celebrity endorser, Prof. Keith Wilcox of Columbia Business School says in a phone interview.

"People pay more attention to a commercial when there is a recognized figure, regardless of the fact that it might be a Muppet," Dr. Wilcox says.

The real question is why the iconic Cookie Monster is choosing to commercialize his appeal. Originally designed to help inner-city children catch up, "Sesame Street" is America's "most famous street" and an institution of children's television, with at least 1,000 research studies agreeing that Muppets effectively teach diverse preschoolers about letters, numbers, and kindness.

And there's no question about the depth of affection legions of at least three generations of Americans feel for the Muppets. As one American mom asked Frank Oz, the voice of Cookie Monster and many Muppet colleagues, on NPR, "I have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old and so your characters are very, very present in my everyday life. And I just wonder, like, what does it feel like to know that you've created these characters that are basically a part of every American child's life?"

Wilcox said Apple does incur some risk with the ad, as the blustery character may not represent Apple's creative, intelligent designs. Most likely, however, the ad appeals to what advertisers call the "baby-money-puppy" phenomenon, meaning any ad is easily improved by the addition of a cute or furry creature. 

As for Sesame Street, Cookie Monster fans will most likely understand that even the Muppets have to eat. The blue character's commercial appearance can help fund the show, which has struggled financially in recent years. New Muppets episodes now debut on HBO and not PBS, as DVD sales have declined and the attention span of today's children has shortened. PBS now provides only 10 percent of funding for the show.

Nor is this the Muppets' first foray into commercials. The Muppets ruled the road in a popular 2014 Super Bowl commercial for Toyota, invading a Toyota Highlander driven by Terry Crews. The commercial was popular with critics and viewers alike. A Super Bowl Commercials review site wrote, "We love this commercial, but we would love just about any minute long clip featuring a bunch of singing Muppets."

Sesame Street has been working with Apple for years, first with the Children’s Television Workshop games for the Apple II, and since then with numerous apps, Matthew Panzarino wrote for Tech Crunch. So long as the Muppets restrict their appearances to family-friendly brands, their decades-long appeal should survive. The main question the Apple's ad will leave most viewers with is: Can Siri help the Cookie Monster wait for cookies? 

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