Katy Perry and Compliance

Katy Perry just wanted to play dress-up. Elmo ran away. Just like Elmo, Sesame Street decided they wanted to get away from Ms. Perry. Her outfit showed too much cleavage.

It’s not the first time Sesame Street has pulled a video. They pulled a video with Chris Brown when he was accused of domestic violence.

The Katy Perry video inspired reactions ranging from “Her outfit seems a bit risqué” to “Jesus, lady, put some clothes on! Kids are watching.” Based on the outcry, Sesame Street pulled the clip. Katy Perry did not.

You need to conduct some due diligence on your business partners. Given that all organizations have limited resources, you generally take a risk-based approach and spend more time and money on those business partners that pose more of a risk.

For a young kid focused company like Sesame Street, Ms. Perry should have been high on their risk ranking. All they would have to do is watch her first hit song video: “I Kissed Girl.” Or watch her most recent video for “California Gurls“, featured breast-mounted frosting cannons. A little basic due diligence should have indicated that they should keep a close eye on Ms. Perry.

I’m not sure what Sesame Street didn’t like about the video with Ms. Perry and Elmo. I didn’t find anything wrong with it. Sure, it’s more cleavage than I’m used to seeing on Sesame Street. That’s not more than we see in many Disney cartoons. Ms. Perry was playing dress-up and wearing a princess outfit.

If Sesame Street had a policy against cleavage, they must have failed in letting Ms. Perry and the video director know about or failed to enforce it on the front lines. Education is a key component of compliance programs.

The front line employees should have been told that Ms. Perry would be under higher scrutiny and should have asked up about the wardrobe choice. Perhaps the front line employees did not feel that upper management was open to questions and concerns.

Based on an interview from the executive producer it sounds like they thought the video and the outfit was acceptable and met their standards. However, viewer comments on the video alerted them to the problem some parents had. Maybe the social media outcry was from only a segment of their viewers, but they needed to react.

Post-crisis, I thought Sesame Street handled it well. They let Ms. Perry publish the video through her channels and didn’t try to suppress the video. (Such an attempt would successful anyway.) They had Elmo ask her to come back for another play date.