Jim Henson’s Commercials for Wilkins Coffee: 15 Twisted Minutes of Muppet Coffee Ads (1957–1961)

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.”

If you’re a glut­ton for pun­ish­ment, you can watch many of the Wilkins Cof­fee com­mer­cials above. And a word of advice: If some­one ever asks you if you drink Wilkins Cof­fee, just say yes.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jim Hen­son Teach­es You How to Make Pup­pets in Vin­tage Primer From 1969

Jim Hen­son Cre­ates an Exper­i­men­tal Ani­ma­tion Explain­ing How We Get Ideas (1966)

Jim Henson’s Orig­i­nal, Spunky Pitch for The Mup­pet Show

Jim Henson’s Zany 1963 Robot Film Uncov­ered by AT&T: Watch Online

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.