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The rich (and flavorful) world of General Foods coffee commercials

Because I live a bold and exciting life, this morning found me looking up coffee commercials on Youtube.

And I happened upon a rather random Huffington Post article highlighting (of all things) "General Foods International Coffees."

These make a nice companion to the resplendent Sizzler commercial from around the same time period.

Each of the GFS commercials shows a little vignette of a couple of people (usually women, the old "2 Cs in a K" motif) just appreciating life and the passage of time over a steaming cup of coffee.

But it's clear that between the lines there is a rather vibrant world that has been imagined. This is Payton Place in 30 seconds or less.

See, for example the lesbian couple laughing over their old lives in the closet. Oh, Steve, he meant well...

These ads really start to click when the viewer assumes that they are all occurring in the same town. It feels like a Stephen King novel only instead of dark secrets and cursed totems, they've got instant coffee and warm sentimentality.

 

What could be the dark secret as to why there are almost no men in the exceedingly white town of General Foods-ville? Nobody's saying. Maybe it has to do with an incident on a certain senior trip?

 

Clearly these people would rather be somewhere else. What is the purgatory of the General Foods town in which this is set. A place where dreams go to die? Evaporating like the wafting aroma of signature instant coffee?

Here again, images of handsome foreign waiters dance in our protagonists' heads.

(the unison of the words "waiter" and "what's-his-name" is particularly earworm-y.)


Leah Thompson, prior to saving the homeland in Red Dawn, was packing for a different kind of excursion. And once again, the ol' fee fees struck when they least expected it.

 

Flash forward almost a decade and there was clearly still some magic in the "International Coffee" advertising premise.

The 90s was a time where the sentimentality of the classic commercials mixed with a certain erotic tension. Consider these three ads. In the first, an exhausted couple unwinds with some night-coffee (classic sleep aid that it is) and rather tawdry memory triggered by a certain familiar blend of joe. The next harkens to a tropical location by way of that sickly sweet booze-dilution, Khalua. And the other, in which an old friend's brother's romantic availability is cause for hot pot of gossip with a side of Suisse Mocha instant.

The number of people with distinct sense memories for coffee is truly staggering. Out of my 20-ish years of coffee drinking on a semi-regular basis, I can think of maybe four distinct instances where coffee was at all notable. These people should be in a study.



 

Seeing so many of these little vignettes back to back, one quickly becomes a connoisseur. This ad is probably the clunkiest in this style. They come right and drop the brand name in the first five seconds. No tact, no art. It reeks of desperation. The fact that this was recorded by a camcorder aimed at a TV playing a VHS tape does not help matters.

 

Here is an earlier version with the same clunky delivery. This can be forgiven for being much earlier in the series (I can't believe I'm referring to them that way.) Perhaps even more jarring is the awkward way the actors sip the coffee and the final gestures -intended to indicate a deep abiding relationship- feel as if they're about to awkwardly kiss for the first time.