oments of truth occur in the oddest of
circumstances. Roscoe Orman, who plays the human character Gordon
on the children's television show "Sesame Street," was standing not
10 feet from another Gordon -- Gordon "Butch" Stewart -- when he
asked the Muppet character Elmo, "And how do we get to the beach?"
Let's press the pause button for a moment. The 300 people in the
audience watching Elmo and the character Gordon have just eaten
lunch at Tavern on the Green in New York, and Butch Stewart picked
up the tab. He also just made a significant -- very significant --
sponsorship pledge to the Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit
organization behind "Sesame Street" and other projects, and he's
hosting this lunch to promote the quid pro quo to the pledge --
that "Sesame Street" shows and characters will be embedded in
Stewart's Beaches Resorts for a year, beginning in September.
When the sponsorship/ partnership was first announced last April
(remember, we're still on pause -- we have time to reminisce), a
mother who works in the travel industry wrote a letter to Travel
Weekly bemoaning the agreement and the apparent commercialization
of an icon of educational television. "What a shame," she wrote. "I
guess nothing is sacred."
Back to Tavern on the Green. Butch Stewart, who has a ringside
seat to the show, is hanging on every word. He is the chairman of a
company called Beaches and he is watching a skit about going to the
beach. He is also chairman of Air Jamaica, and the question put to
Elmo is, "And how do we get to the beach?"
I don't know how many people other than myself expected Elmo to
say, "On Air Jamaica." But when the play button was pushed, Elmo
said, "In a car!" And then the two characters, one human and one
Muppet, sang a children's song about going to the beach in a car. A
beach. Not beaches or Beaches, but a beach one drives to.
There wasn't a single reference to Beaches or Sandals or Air
Jamaica during the almost 20 minutes that Elmo and Gordon were on
the stage. Why not? Because, as any of the 50 or so children
present could have told you, "Sesame Street" characters are brought
to you by letters and numbers, not airlines and resorts.
Patronage often brings a sense of indebtedness and obligation to
the person receiving it, but the Sesame Workshop turns the equation
on its head: It forms partnerships in which the value it brings to
sponsors is the assurance that its content cannot be bought.
There is little doubt that the presence of "Sesame Street"
characters at Beaches will help Butch Stewart's occupancy rate. And
it won't hurt him that the partnership includes educational
workshops for local schools in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos, where
his resorts are located.
But in the final analysis, it's good for the Sesame Workshop to
be able to extend its brand into the mass-market travel industry,
and it's good for Butch Stewart's bottom line that he's their
partner. I guess it's inevitable that, every once in a while,
"Sesame Street" characters will be brought to you by the letters