Sketchy Characters: A Case Study

For the last two or three years it has been remarkably difficult to walk through Times Square in Manhattan without catching sight of a person wearing a series of slightly different, ragged Elmo costumes (and those of other Disney/Time Warner characters to a lesser extent).  As has been documented by various local news outlets, the wearer's MO is to insist upon being paid for appearing in pictures with confused tourists.
Sure, in a brand management sense it's obviously bad if someone is misrepresenting your property in any way.  What particularly strikes me about this situation is that it's happening in one of the most visible "branded" spaces in the world - a place many out-of-towners purposely visit to revel in the refracted glory of Charmin video screens and such.  Encountering this rogue Elmo here can't possibly be the kind of "impression" that a CMO would list in a PowerPoint deck.

What's worse is that beyond being pushy and sometimes committing petty violence against tourists, Times Square Elmo allegedly engages in some even stranger behavior.  According to a post on

As for the creepiness factor, a woman once told me that, for several weeks, this furry freak regularly came by her street-level office window on 7th Avenue and lingered there for several minutes, seemingly staring directly at her.

In the video and photos below, you'll also see that Elmo unsurprisingly seems to have regular interactions with the police.

So, where exactly has Sesame Workshop "corporate" been?  I can't speak with any authority about the legality of dressing up as Elmo in a wildly public space and harrassing people for money.   However, I'd imagine that you could send an email to Bloomberg and he'd take care of this.  So, what exactly is going on here?


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