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Sesame Street Has Shot Down a Startup Using Bert and Ernie to Sell STD Tests

The National Museum Of American History Celebrates Jim Henson's Birthday With Puppet DonationThe National Museum Of American History Celebrates Jim Henson's Birthday With Puppet Donation
Sesame Street's Ernie, Elmo and Bert at a ceremony on the anniversary of muppet creator Jim Henson's birthday at the National Museum of American History in 2013.Paul Morigi — WireImage/Getty Images

Sesame Street has long stayed mum on the sexual orientation of its lovable duo Bert and Ernie, so the show took serious offense this week when a startup implied that the muppet roommates had tested themselves for a sexually transmitted disease.

New York-based Mately, which plans to sell mail-away test kits for HIV and other STDs, quickly found itself in an uncomfortable position after it ran online ads portraying Bert and Ernie looking at their results.

“See Ernie, you’ve got nothing to worry about, everything is positive!” read the caption above Mately’s tag line, “Help us take STD testing out of the Stone Age.”

A few hours after the Washington Examiner reported on the ads, Sesame Street declared the campaign an “unauthorized, unlicensed use of our characters,” and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Mately, according to the BBC. Sesame Street has maintained that the muppets are not a gay couple but just a platonic pair of “best friends.”

Mately has since removed the ad from its website and social media pages, a potential setback in its efforts to get its business off the ground. The startup wants to sell subscriptions to its at-home testing kits, then create an app where customers can share their results and HIV status with each other in social network fashion.

But the only way to sign up currently is to fund Mately’s Indiegogo campaign, which promises a “reserved membership slot” for a $35 contribution. So far, Mately has only raised 1% of its $500,000 goal, or $3,859, with two months to go. It will be able to keep all the money it raises even if the project is never fully funded.

Mately’s CEO Brandon Greenberg commented in a statement to CNBC:

“We sincerely apologize if we offended anyone or if any images were use inappropriately. This was inspired from an image that was obtained from a meme circulating around social media. This was by no means part of an advertising campaign intended to tarnish the Sesame Street brand.”