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Yummy Yummy: Top 7 Business Lessons from the Wiggles
In the early 1990s, three Australian early childhood education students at Macquarie University, Murray Cook, Greg Page and Anthony Field, decided they felt compelled to dress up in brightly colored red, yellow and blue (respectively) costumes that looked like . uniforms from the original “Star Trek” series. It wasn’t long before they convinced Anthony Field’s bandmate in The Cockroaches, Jeff Fatt, to don a purple shirt and start having fun at birthday parties, dancing and singing about fruit salad and wallabies.
If you’re the parent of a young child, you probably know this Australian quartet as The Wiggles, who are the Beatles, Monkees or ‘N Sync of the kid set. They are the highest paid performers in Australia, ahead of Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman.
You know right away when you watch their DVDs and videos (which you will, at least 200 times each) and their TV show four times a day on Playhouse Disney that these guys are definitely not American creations. Mister Rogers, Mister Dressup, and Bozo the Clown are gone, and no modern grown American man would dress up in funny costumes and entertain children with “Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy!”
Their loss. The Wiggles, who make $14 million a year, are the latest children’s sensation, and what they can teach us about success and finding your life’s passion will inspire America to play guitar and dance with Wiggles friends Wags the Dog. Henry the Octopus, Dorothy the Friendly Dinosaur and Captain Feathersword the Friendly Pirate, who performs a hilarious romp that would make Johnny Depp want to cut his own pirate’s throat.
1. Do what is good for your audience without performing.
The Wiggles do not resort to After School Special messages. Would you like to know about the value of a healthy diet? Eat some fruit salad! Exercise? Get up and ‘Romp Bomp a Stomp’ or dance and play with Dorothy! Let’s do a pirate dance with Captain Feathersword and chase the Wiggles in their big red car. Songs do what songs, dance and theater were originally designed to do: impart knowledge. They do this in a fun, smart, colorful and eye-catching way. With three ECE degrees, the Wiggles (Murray, Jeff and Greg) and their own children, they know that children can understand what benefits them without being spoon-fed. And Jeff… well, sleepy Jeff shows everyone the value of a good night’s sleep.
2. Find a way to get everyone involved and you will reap the rewards.
Jeff, who does not have an ECE degree, was shy about dealing with children, according to the Knight-Ridder article, “If You Have Small Children, Get Ready to Wiggle,” by Rod Harmon. Greg, Anthony, and Murray came up with Jeff’s constant sleeping and running gagging by asking the kids in the videos and TV show to shout, “Wake up, Jeff!” It’s become so popular that there’s actually a Wiggles video, “Wake Up Jeff!” From the first Wiggles video to the current ones, you can see Jeff getting more involved with the kids, singing, dancing and playing, although quieter than the other three. Kids are always drawn to someone who’s a little different, and Jeff stands out even when he’s dancing with a big green dinosaur that sings a poem and a purple dancing octopus. The other three Wiggles seem to encourage his uniqueness. From the videos, CDs and Jeff dolls they sell, the approach works! When The Wiggles tour America, Jeff will be rocked by kids too young to be crazy about Justin Timberlake.
3) Keep it alive and connected.
The Wiggles can get away with making DVDs, TV shows and albums for their adoring fans for the rest of their lives. But they are all used to interaction. Murray, Greg and Anthony are expected to be teachers. Jeff and Anthony played to crowds as members of the Cockroaches. They also include and talk to real children in their videos, including members of their own families (as seen in the credits of their videos and DVDs). In a scene from “Hoop Dee Doo! It’s a Wiggly Party”, several children are making emus skirts while one of the Wiggles talks to them. No doubt live Wiggles shows will be no different, including Asian versions that will feature local native speakers as Wiggles clones (“The Wiggles Wiggles,” Feb. 6, Newsweek Web Exclusive). Even Dorothy has her own dance party on tour. Whether you send a giant green dinosaur with a floppy white hat or apply yourself, don’t underestimate the value of reaching out and getting involved. It’s also fun to run and jump with kids (no wonder Anthony, who’s always eating, stays slim!)
4) Don’t follow the crowd or the market.
Most American non-Disney and Nick Jr non-PBS kids shows seem to be 22 minute commercials for action figures or dolls and a way to passively entertain kids. The conventional wisdom was: Kids will be bored if there’s no slam-bang action, and you can’t make money doing something good for them. The Wiggles proved that to be false. The kids dance and sing along with Jeff, Murray, Greg, Anthony and friends instead of sitting around eating sugary treats and mindlessly watching some goddamn green monster get shot down to reappear in the next episode. With the epidemic of diabetes mellitus and obesity among American children, the Wiggles’ approach is not only positive, but continues to breed success for the diverse foursome.
The Wiggles themselves doubted that there would be an audience for helping children learn through music and dance. A booking agent told them there would be no money in it, but they stuck to their guns and became hugely popular in Australia. The United States was next, and the Wiggles were now a major hit at Playhouse Disney with sold-out tours—they had to play second and third shows in many cities.
5) It is not that difficult to become international or multicultural.
The Wiggles don’t need multicultural sensitivity training. After all, if your friends are a singing dog, a rose-eating dinosaur and an octopus with an underwater band, then there is no problem with diversity. They regularly perform Australian, Irish, Spanish and other songs. The franchise is expanding to Asia. If you think this TV show doesn’t seem like a likely hit in Japan, you’ve never seen “Pokemon” or the anime, or the old classic “Ultraman.”
6) Stay true to your roots.
There’s no doubt that Murray, Jeff, Greg and Anthony are Aussies (again, four American guys wouldn’t do what they do), although Dorothy sounds a bit more British. Songs like Willaby Wallaby Woo are about their decrepit heritage and you don’t see them suddenly moving to a mansion in Malibu and pretending to be rich Hollywood Yankees without their families and kids.
7) Your family life only enhances your work and your passion.
Three of the Wiggles are married, with Jeff apparently too sleepy to settle down, even though he was voted Australia’s Most Eligible Bachelor before marrying Anthony. These fellows have built their careers around children and, as described in point 3, regularly include their own families in their videos. The family that eats fruit salad and decay together stays together. Giving joy to millions of children can’t help but have a lasting positive impact on your family.
Does all this inspire you to wave, stand up and dance? You probably will when you have kids. But let it inspire you to follow your passion in your work, family and life. Learn from these four career advisors, Greg, Murray, Jeff and Anthony. And hey, eat fruit salad. You need your health, man.
Visit The Wiggles at http://www.thewiggles.com.
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