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Add puppets for a fresh approach to healthcare marketing


When someone mentions puppets, what do you think of? Mayhem and explosions on "The Muppet Show?" Cows and sheep breaking into song on "Sesame Street?" Me too! I’ve been a puppeteer and fan for years, never expecting that these lumps of felt and foam would make inroads into my working world. Yet puppets can grab attention and convey information, even in serious fields like medicine.

So, why puppets?

Puppets grab attention

In early episodes of "Sesame Street," there were no puppet characters on the street – just humans. And what did children in test audiences think of that? BO-RING. The producers wisely decided that Big Bird and Oscar would live alongside humans on the street.

Kids today are no different. If you’re trying to reach children with your video, are they more likely to listen to an adult or a fuzzy, blue, googly-eyed furball explaining the topic? This is especially true when the puppet appears in a real-world situation. Putting a colorful critter into a waiting room or exam room focuses the viewer’s attention and says, “This is gonna be different- listen up.”

Children identify with puppets

Puppets are great stand-ins for kids. Watching a puppet having blood drawn or receiving a flu shot portrays these as positive experiences. The puppet character can ask the questions a child would, and can get away with more humor or silliness than a child actor would. At the Rockhampton Hospital in Australia, nurses actually brought puppets into a pediatric acute care ward. They found that children were more comfortable asking medical questions of the puppet than the nurse. A Child Life Specialist at the University of Michigan says that pint-sized patients often practice a procedure, like inserting an IV tube, on a stuffed animal, which demystifies the process and carries no risk of pain. In other words, these not-so-normal creatures actually help normalize the child’s care.

Casting a puppet gives you more options

In many of the medical videos Plum produces, we follow actual patients through their treatment, but that can be tricky with a child patient. There are HIPAA laws to consider, not to mention the child’s nervousness about a camera and crew following him or her around. Substitute a puppet character and those issues fade away. Likewise, choosing a child actor to appear in a medical video can be difficult: questions of gender, age and ethnicity crop up before you even start auditioning. Puppets can break through diversity barriers by being blue or orange or a koala or a monster!


Puppets are brand-friendly

Speaking of a blue or orange puppet, why not have the main character in your video incorporate the colors of your logo? A puppet character could even be the logo of your children’s ward or a waiting area. Produce anything from coloring book pages to plush versions of your mascot, and get your kid-friendly message across while strengthening your brand.

Adults get it too

Oh yeah, us cynical adults pay attention to puppets, too. A meeting opener that I worked on featured puppets spoofing the (over)sponsorship of NASCAR drivers. Having a puppet recite his ridiculously long list of sponsors was engaging on two levels: the spoof itself is funny, and the fact that a childlike puppet is reciting it adds to the humor. It's always a welcome surprise to be watching TV and discover a brand tapping into this nostalgia and novelty. The Lending Tree commercials are fun, but the puppet versions of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant definitely take top prize.

Whether they're asking the questions a child would or demonstrating a medical procedure, puppet characters can be a valuable member of the team on your next production. And they're always game for some mayhem and explosions, too!

Author: Ken Schellin

Inspired by Star Wars and the Muppets, I started making mini-movies as a kid- why stop as an adult? It’s just that my productions no longer star my sister or my cocker spaniel. Outside of work, you might find me puppeteering a character in a web series or planning my next international trip. From China to Cuba, Austria to Australia, my foodie wife and I are always exploring. And yes, the camera keeps rolling. Check out our blog at Now, when's the next flight to Mongolia?

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