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Over the past 47 years, Sesame Street has been used to promote a lot of things, from the alphabet to addition to learning a different language. Though sharing is another lesson the show teaches, none of the Muppets are talking about sharing or not sharing sexually transmitted diseases, yet a new health tech startup has earned the grouchy ire of Sesame Street for the unauthorized use of characters Bert and Ernie in a picture promo about STD awareness.
Mately, founded and run by Brandon Greenberg, is attempting to put together a subscription-based STD testing service that will utilize both the physical world, through mailing in urine and blood samples to a testing center, and the digital world, through an accompanying app that delivers results and other information. And part of the early advertising was unwisely using the iconic roommates Bert and Ernie for an image where they’re looking through papers, complete with the following message:
See Ernie, you’ve got nothing to worry about, everything is positive!
The problem here, of course, is that no one at Mately got permission to use the image, which was kind of a bold move since there aren’t many children’s TV shows that would likely attach themselves to an STD campaign. No matter how positive the outgoing message, that’s still some weird crossover territory, and it’s apparent that Sesame Workshop’s execs weren’t just going to sit on their furry hands.
According to TMZ, a Sesame spokesman reached out and said they were going to drop a cease and desist order on Mately and any other associated parties for the unlicensed appearance of the characters. And as soon as that happened, Mately obliged, removing all of the offending images and posts, saying that there was no ill will intended by Bert and Ernie’s inclusion. (Other Mately ads use Donald Trump and Chippendale dancers to lighten up the serious message at the center of the campaign.)
Rarely do any other Sesame Street characters besides Bert and Ernie get used in unrelated subject matter like this, particularly when it comes to the characters theoretically having sex with each other. For years, the best friends have served as unofficial mascots for gay marriage and many people do believe that Bert and Ernie are lovers, despite all manner of evidence saying otherwise. Namely the Sesame Street team pointing out that these are characters without lower halves of their bodies and no apparent concept of sexuality. So no need to worry about getting any STDs, unless there’s some kind of a weird party in Oscar’s trash can.
You can currently watch the still-kid-perfect Sesame Street in its first season on its new home at HBO.