Drink our coffee. Or. That’s the message of the weird sadistic TV commercials Jim Henson produced between 1957 and 1961.
Henson made 179 ten-second spots for Wilkins Coffee, a regional company with distribution in the Baltimore-Washington DC market, according to the Muppets Wiki: “Local stations only have ten seconds of station identification, so Muppet ads should be lightning-fast– basically, eight seconds. for a two second commercial promotion and product shoot.”
In those eight seconds, a coffee enthusiast named Wilkins (who bears a resemblance to Kermit the frog) manages to shoot, stab, hit, or otherwise injure the body of the coffee shop owner named Wontkins. Henson provides the voices of both characters.
Until then, TV advertisers usually carried out direct sales promotions. “We took a different approach,” Henson says in Christopher Finch Of Muppets and Men: Muppet Show Making. “We try to sell things by making people laugh.”
The campaign for Wilkins Coffee was very successful. “In terms of advertising popularity in the Washington area,” Henson said in a 1982 interview with Judy Harris, “we are the number one, most popular ad.” Henson’s advertising agency began marketing the idea to other regional coffee companies around the country. Henson re-photographed the same place under a different brand name. “I bought my contract from the agency,” Henson said, “and then I produced it—the same thing all over the country. So we have about a dozen clients at the same time. At this point, I’m making a lot of money.”
If you’re a punishment eater, you can watch the many Wilkins Coffee commercials above. And a piece of advice: If someone asks you if you drink Wilkins Coffee, just say yes.
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