An award-winning music video, appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, millions of YouTube views and Twitter dominance – no, it’s not Justin Bieber.

It’s the Muppets.

The Jim Henson-created franchise has been in a slump for decades. Their biggest hit was the The Muppet Movie back in 1979. But that was before social media.

The Muppets, released last week in North America, has garnered critical acclaim and fans are pouring into theatres. But perhaps their biggest success has been online: This old-school franchise is the new kung-fu master of branded entertainment.

As Alex Rowland wrote in Sparksheet , branded entertainment works best when users forget they’re watching an ad and when they’re given opportunities to interact with the brand.

Disney chose die-hard Muppet fans Jason Segal and James Bobbin to write and direct the film, and brought in Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie for the soundtrack, ensuring an authentic Muppet experience while delivering quality content that works on multiple channels.

For two years Disney used – you guessed it – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+ to generate buzz online.

They kicked-off the campaign with a decidedly unorthodox but wholly Muppetesque cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which went viral, winning two Webbies along the way.

Next, Kermit appeared in *cough* person at the world premier of the latest Pirates of the Carribean installment for the release of The Muppets’ first trailer.

Arguably the campaign’s biggest hit, the series of trailer parodies poked fun at this year’s most anticipated blockbusters. The lighthearted videos capture what so many fans love about the Muppets – their infectious silliness.

As one of the first official brands to join Google+, the Muppets filled the user engagement quota by hosting a Google+ hangout.

As opening weekend approached, the Muppets took a tongue-in-cheek spin on cause marketing with their “Muppets Fan-A-Thon.”

Riffing on the film’s central plot point, Muppet characters urged viewers to “pledge a like” on Facebook. If the page reached the modest goal of a “bazillion” likes, Disney would release advanced screening locations. No, they didn’t reach the bazillion mark, but with 2 million likes, Disney’s not complaining.

Finally, taking aim at haters on Digg and YouTube, the franchise released another viral hit. This time, ill-fated Beaker burns down the set with his rendition of “Dust in the Wind.”

Yes, The Muppets’ aesthetic is 1970s oddball. Yes, their jokes are goofy. But that’s why we love them, and it took a flawlessly executed social media campaign to remind us.

And in case you haven’t had your fill of Muppet-driven branded content, check out our Q&A with Sesame Street’s new media director, Dan Lewis.

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