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June 17, 2009

Wilkins Coffee ad as metaphor for US foreign policy

In this clip you will see a series of real ads for Wilkins Coffee starring real Muppets. The puppetmaster is the late great Jim Henson who did 179 commercials for Wilkins products between 1957 and 1961. These ads are riveted on message: Bad things happen to people who don't drink Wilkins Coffee, up to and including decapitation by guillotine, Ignorance is no excuse. You're either with Wilkins or against it. So, drink up for your own good. If you substitute "democracy for "coffee" you get a pretty good metaphor for US foreign policy.


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So everybody reads BoingBoing and everybody slaps their own application to a 50-year-old video...

Welcome to the internet, swag! Make yourself at home.

Substitute "producer" for "consumer" and "United Fruit Company" for "Wilkins Coffee" and you've really got something.

We're still here and where is Wilkins?

That proto-Kermit looks remarkably phallic.


You're so right. Frankly, I was a bit shocked to see Lindsay buying into the whole "we invaded Iraq in order to spread democracy" thing.

Also, I don't think agribusiness is the only industry that we've gone to war for.

gordo, that's the claim they make. It's not about whether they actually meant it; "you're with us or against us" is only rhetoric, true, but the point of this post (if I'm reading it correctly) is that it's dangerous rhetoric. Notice in the ads that the majority of Wontkins's misfortune is the result of a deliberate act on the part of Wilkins to cause him harm -- it doesn't matter whether Wilkins actually likes Wilkins coffee; it only matters that Wontkins drinks it.

I don't think it's true that the US invaded Iraq to spread democracy. That's just what they always tell the victim before they smack him over the head.

Pardon me if I ignore the political and ethical side to this, and just stand amazed that someone found these vids with paleomuppets and preserved them for posterity.

(Not amazed as in "what a waste of time" or "it's so cool", but just that something that otherwise I'd expect to be lost in obscurity could be kept)

Well, okay, I just wanted to use the word "paleomuppets". In a million years or so, when Kermit shows up in a dig, I want first dibs on the terminology.

These commercials got a mention in Micheal Davis' overbaked history of Sesame Street, "Street Gang". The violence was no doubt pretty funny in the context of early-60s TV blandness, but even to my modern sensibilities that gun was a little shocking.

Having spent two years in marketing and advertising communications research, I can tell you these would have been very effective ads. On average, it takes 8 executions (not the guillotine and firing squad types) to create top-of-mind awareness in the viewer. Watch the video one more time to completion. I guarantee that you'll think about Wilkins coffee every time you shop for coffee in the supermarket.

As to the cartoon violence, I don't know. Remember Paul Newman's movie, "Slap Stick?" It came out at a time when the public was sensitive about movie violence. He defended it by saying it was "Tom and Jerry" cartoon violence. For the same reason, Clint Eastwood's movie, "The Unforgiven," was in danger of box office failure even before it was released. Eastwood and company turned it around by reinventing it as a violent movie that was really an anti-violence movie. Pahleeeeze!

Anyway, I will never forget that the term "Paleomuppets" was invented by Snarki, child of Loki. If I ever see it again without proper attribution, I will speak up and protect the honor of your creativity and the integrity of your intellectual property.

I wouldn't say it's "democracy" determines whether other countries get it from our foreign policy establishment. There are plenty of countries that try democracy with all seriousness, hold free elections and elect people our leaders don't like. Despite their democratic legitimacy these folks, without question, get it too. Meanwhile, grossly anti-democratic despots we support never get it. So, we'll have to substitute some other for "Wilkins Coffee", not "democracy". Our foreign policy established couldn't care less about that.


Yeah, at least Wilkins Coffee really is coffee. The "democracy" we invaded Iraq to promote is as phony as chicory.

I've been in the DC area since 1970 and can tell you that Wilkins was good coffee. Was roasted in the DC area, Rockville MD I think. It was sold to Royal Cup of Birmingham AL in the early '90s. Part of the homogenization of America.
Henson was a student at Univ of MD when these ads were created.

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