Monday, June 15, 2009

Shockingly violent coffee commercials starring Muppets



Surprisingly violent series of commercials for Wilkins Coffee, featuring primitive Muppets. One of the ads involves a guillotine.



Hard to believe, but it apparently was a genuine ad campaign:

In 1957, Jim Henson was approached by a Washington, D.C. coffee company to produce ads for Wilkins Coffee. The local stations only had ten seconds for station identification, so the commercials had to be lightning-fast -- essentially, eight seconds for the commercial pitch and a two-second shot of the product.

From 1957 to 1961, Henson made 179 commercials for Wilkins Coffee and other Wilkins products, including Community Coffee and Wilkins Tea. The ads were so successful and well-liked that they sparked a series of remakes for companies in other local markets throughout the 1960s.

The ads starred the cheerful Wilkins, who liked Wilkins Coffee, and the grumpy Wontkins, who hated it. Wilkins would often do serious harm to Wontkins in the ads -- blowing him up, stabbing him with a knife, and smashing him with a club, among many other violent acts.

Wilkins and Wontkins were generally the only characters in the commercials, though on rare occasions, such critters as a Muppet whale or baby birds would appear. Company owner Mr. Wilkins was also invoked more than once.

The characters proved so popular that in October 1958, the company offered vinyl puppets of Wilkins and Wontkins through the mail for $1.00 and a coffee can label. The offer on the can said, "Hey Kids! I'm Wilkins -- he's Wontkins -- you see us on TV!" Obviously, Wilkins Coffee and Henson knew that the Muppet characters had kid appeal, although this doesn't seem to have had any effect on the use of violence and terror in the ads.
You can see a list of all the commercials here. And go here to see many more Muppets videos from the 60's.

*Previously: From the producers of Yo Gabba Gabba, Team Smithereen, stunt puppets.

*Buy Muppets toys at eBay.

26 comments:

  1. i love early henson stuff!!

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  2. I think more shocking than the physical violence is the fact that the audience is being threatened into buying Wilkins - "Things just seem to happen to people that don't drink Wilkins". Classic!

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  3. God, let me point out the irony of complaining about muppets engaging in "violence and terror" on a site named "Super Punch" whose logo is a threatening lion assaulting a much smaller snake.

    Stupid.

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  4. I've always loved classic comic violence myself.

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  5. I took a class in college called Muppet Magic and learned all about Henson and his early work. A lot of people forget that the Muppets didn't start out as kid fare.

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  6. I like that the ads are only five seconds long!

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  7. None of these are that violent. Especially since at this time if people thought of puppets they thought of "Punch and Judy"

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  8. Anyone who thinks the muppets are strictly characters for children needs to read Street Gang and watch more of the Muppet Show.
    Thanks for showing the clips. I hadn't seen those before.

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  9. Wilkins coffee must have been mafia owned. Drink it or else!

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  10. I don't think the lion is punching the snake. I think that thing is a manticore and the snake is its tail.

    Tom and Jerry was big around the time this came out too.

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  11. I honestly only think this seems violent in the context of having grown up with muppets. In the 50/60's before the rise of sesame street this just wouldn't be percieved the same way. Taken out of context anything can be miscontrued.

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  13. "the Muppet characters had kid appeal, although this doesn't seem to have had any effect on the use of violence and terror in the ads." Slapstick comedy actually has a long history, and its use of violence has only recently been called in to question by the AAP. Taken out of context, sure these ads seem violent, but given the length of the commercials it's pretty clear that these were short spots designed to garner attention for the brand, rather than promote a particular set of ideals. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slapstick

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  14. It is shockingly violent-- in context. The spokespuppet is clearly an early stage in the evolution of Kermit the Frog. Can you imagine Kermit taking a handgun and blowing Elmo's brains out?

    Okay, I can.

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  15. Unfotunately, I can't cite the source... but Jim Henson was quoted in making a distinction between "Violence" and "Malice" where he found malice to be the much more harmful thing to portray... I always thought his point was valid... and much overlooked when people judge entertainment.

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  16. other than the handgun pointing at me, bringing back memories, they were silly. After working in advertising for the last 25 years as an editor, these were refreshing. no edits, :05 long. genius!

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  17. Proto-Kermit. Awesome.

    Proto-Ralph. Awesomer.

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  18. If ads were this short now, I would watch more live TV rather than DVR and TIVO.

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  19. Who wouldn't enjoy killing a fucking muppet anyway?

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  20. Muppets make excellent getaway drivers.

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  21. Very Itchy and Scratchy!

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  22. Oh for non-god's sake. The Warner Brothers toons of the 1940s were considerably more violent, and Tom & Jerry even topped that.

    As for Muppet violence -- has no one here ever watched "The Muppet Show"? Things blew up all the time. Particularly where Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker were concerned.

    This inane prudishness over ten-second coffee ads is ludicrous.

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  23. and yet wilkins coffe is no nonger in business and none of us has ever heard of it.

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  24. I think that the romans spread christianity the same way as Wilkins Coffee.

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  25. What famous person would you like to see in a television spot ?

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  26. @jonathan:

    You do realize that the Super Punch logo is actually a chimera, no?

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