I was watching the CITV retro weekend, and it struck me how Sooty has been successful for over 60 years. Apart from being brilliantly funny, more so than many adult programmes; I started to think about what made it special.
So yes, here are some lessons we should take from The Sooty Show:
1. Really Know Who Your Audience Is
Most kids shows set their audience as a blanket group of kids. Either young kids, tweens or young teens. Boys or girls. Sooty was one of the first kids shows to understand two important things:
- Kids watch shows together (Especially years ago), so you need to be careful about targeting just one age group.
- Kids watching shows are usually accompanied by their parents or older siblings.
The show always featured in-jokes and references that many kids might not get or be aware of, and combined it with jokes and action that kids would get. Sooty truly knew about the whole audience, and made sure to include something for all of them.
Some of the gags in here I didn't get until I rewatched them years later.
2. Don't Talk Down to People
So many kids shows are designed to be simple and slow, they treat kids as kids. But most kids want to be older than they are, it's why they place so much importance on how old they are. As soon as a show talks down to someone, they alienate them.
Sooty always treated kids with respect. It had scenarios and situations that were relevant to them, but always spoke to them as if they were real people, not in a manner that kids programmes were usually seen to do.
I watched the show as a kid, and then with my little brothers. The respect it showed for the audience meant you could still enjoy it even as a cynical grumpy teenager.
Far too many campaigns treat people as if they are incapable of understanding basic metaphor or symbolism. Or think that the only way to get attention is to lack any subtlety whatsoever. If you look at the campaigns that people love, and the campaigns that people respond to, they almost always treat people as intelligent.
3. Don't Let People Ruin a Good Vision
For most of it's existence, Sooty has been looked after by people who really care about the show and the characters. Except for the time between 1996 and 2008 when HIT Entertainment bought it, and gradually changed the show in a way that led to it's cancellation after over 50 years.
Since the show was bought back by long time fan and presenter Richard Cadell, it has returned to the vision that made it a success, and the response from audiences has been much better.
It's too easy to make concessions that damage the work we do. If we believe in our work we should fight for it every step of the way. If we don't believe in our work, why are we doing it?
4. Details Matter
The little details matter because they signify how much care has gone into what you are making. Take Sweep. Most shows would just have a puppet that made squeaky noises, but the Sooty Show made sure that every squeak was fully scripted. This meant that the character felt more a part of the action, and also meant that people could laugh at what he said before the punch line, creating a double gag.
Care for the details also makes it far more palatable to see something a number of times. Which if you are creating an ad, is a useful thing to have.
5. Make it Good. Don't Make it For Money.
Many kids shows are designed to maximise the profits from toys and licensed merchandise. Sooty was created out of a love for performing and a real desire to entertain, not to make something profitable.
Make it good and the success will come. A lesson I wish more advertisers would learn.
This also goes for shows and campaigns that are essentially designed to mimic the good work of other people. Just don't.
6. Pushing the Boundaries is What Drives Us Forward
The Sooty Show has caused outrage on a few occasions. Notably on introducing Soo, in an era when it was thought to be introducing sex into a show by having a boy and girl together. Similarly when in one episode where Soo pretended to be pregnant by putting a cushion in her jumper. People will always want to stick to the status quo, but we are in a creative industry, we are creative people, if we don't push things forward, then we will only go backwards.
The silly insults and slapstick violence, along with the above things may sometimes cause shock, but by doing so, the end product was right, and they matched what the audience wanted to see. Forget the status quo, we are here to do good work that works for our clients. If we have to break a boundary to do that, then bring on the boundaries.
Also. As someone who grew up wanting to be in advertising, the below episode is lodged in my head from start to finish. Cos Tooty Poo Smesh.