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6 decades later, Jim Henson’s hilariously violent Muppet coffee ads are still a hit

These 10-second spots from the 1950s got an unexpected 21st-century revival.

6 decades later, Jim Henson’s hilariously violent Muppet coffee ads are still a hit
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Okay, let’s got through the list of ways the muppet Wontkins is murdered for not liking Wilkins Coffee:

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Shot.

Stabbed.

Thrown from a tree.

House bomb.

Crushed by the Washington Monument.

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Tossed from a plane.

Stomped by a giant foot.

Electric chair.

It’s not a comprehensive list, but it does convey the level of cartoonish brutality in these 1950s ads created by Jim Henson for the now-defunct coffee brand Wilkins Coffee. The spots starring two muppets—Wilkins and Wontkins—got a whole new lease on life over the weekend, getting passed around Twitter like crazy more than 60 years after they originally aired.

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According to a 2019 Washington Post story, the spots resulted in a 300% increase in sales for Watkins Coffee, and the company sold 25,000 pairs of vinyl Wilkins and Wontkins puppets in 1958.

Between the short format video and branded merchandise, Wilkins would fit in just fine in the TikTok era of 2021. Just don’t think about bringing these two muppets out of retirement. In that same Washington Post story, it recalls a trade show back in 1992 where a marketing executive was trying to pitch Wontkins and Wilkins as potential mascots for cereal or snack food ads. Henson’s widow Jane allegedly reacted in a way that would make ol’ Wilkins proud—by throwing a punch.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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