Drink our coffee. Or else. That’s the message of these curiously sadistic TV commercials produced by Jim Henson between 1957 and 1961.
Henson made 179 ten-second spots for Wilkins Coffee, a regional company with distribution in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. market, according to the Muppets Wiki: “The local stations only had ten seconds for station identification, so the Muppet commercials had to be lightning-fast–essentially, eight seconds for the commercial pitch and a two-second shot of the product.”
Within those eight seconds, a coffee enthusiast named Wilkins (who bears a resemblance to Kermit the frog) manages to shoot, stab, bludgeon or otherwise do grave bodily harm to a coffee holdout named Wontkins. Henson provided the voices of both characters.
Up until that time, TV advertisers typically made a direct sales pitch. “We took a different approach,” said Henson in Christopher Finch’s Of Muppets and Men: The Making of the Muppet Show. “We tried to sell things by making people laugh.”
The campaign for Wilkins Coffee was a hit. “In terms of popularity of commercials in the Washington area,” said Henson in a 1982 interview with Judy Harris, “we were the number one, the most popular commercial.” Henson’s ad agency began marketing the idea to other regional coffee companies around the country. Henson re-shot the same spots with different brand names. “I bought my contract from that agency,” said Henson, “and then I was producing them–the same things around the country. And so we had up to about a dozen or so clients going at the same time. At the point, I was making a lot of money.”
You can watch many of the Wilkins Coffee commercials above. If you’re a glutton for punishment, there are more on YouTube. And a word of advice: If someone ever asks you if you drink Wilkins Coffee, just say yes.
Jim Henson’s Original, Spunky Pitch for The Muppet Show
Jim Henson’s Zany 1963 Robot Film Uncovered by AT&T: Watch Online
Jim Henson Pilots The Muppet Show with Adult Episode, “Sex and Violence” (1975)
Thanks for this — I have been sharing these ads with students in my geography of coffee classes for the past few years. Like me, they are at first appalled but then curiously drawn to the ads. It is very good to have the back story.
I have been hunting for two years for a DVD or set of DVD’s with the Wilkins Coffee ads on them . . . who has them?
In the Chicago area (and I don’t know where else), there were identical ads for Kraml brand milk.
When I was 10 my family moved to the DC area. I can still remember these commercials on TV. I haven’t seen them in ages. Thanks for making them available.
“Ray, when someone asks if you drink Wilkins Coffee, you say’YES’!”
Though not violent, my all-time favorite is “That coffee is for the birds!”
my favorite is “how SHOCKING.”