Violent Muppet ads of yesteryear deserve a content warning

jim henson muppets wilkins coffee
(Image credit: YouTube)

Ever seen a Muppet touting a pistol? Or a coffee ad featuring enough puppet-on-puppet violence to make even Tarantino blush? Well, you might be in luck as Twitter has managed to dig up some Jim Henson handiwork which is as far away from Sesame Street as you can get.

The timing is ironic considering Disney+ is now putting content warnings on certain age-old episodes of The Muppet Show (here's how to get 15% off Disney Plus if you're thirsty for some Muppet action.) The offending material here though is a series of 1950s adverts made by the puppet master for long-defunct brand Wilkins Coffee, none of which could be made today, let alone get a warning label.

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Each commercial stars the cute twosome of Wilkins and Wontkins, who are basically Bert and Ernie but if Bert liked to do away with his roommate by gun, bomb or sword simply for not liking Wilkins Coffee. The one where poor Wontkins gets crushed by the Washington Monument is particularly inventive. But while that compilation cuts close to the bone, it does miss out this electric chair shocker which would never make it onto today's TV screens.

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This second compilation also shows that the deranged Muppet had a partner-in-crime in the form of Mr Wilkins himself, whose foot can be seen stamping our poor little Wontkins.

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Whether such anarchic advertising was commonplace or not in the post-war era, it must have shocked some kids to see the psychopathic Wilkins waste his pal in increasingly inventive ways. What's more badass are the little quips Wilkins gives in his Kermit-like voice after each atrocity, like he's some sort of Muppet James Bond.

And yet, the fact you won't see any cans of Wilkins Coffee today has nothing to do with these wild commercials. In fact, according to this Washington Post story, Henson's ads resulted in a 300 per cent increase in sales, and a whopping 25,000 pairs of vinyl Wilkins and Wontkins puppets were sold in just one year. But as the recent Reddit Superbowl ad proved, brands these days have to rely more on a smart and viral hook as opposed to shock humour. Still, what we wouldn't give to see two certain meerkats go head-to-head in a bloody battle for our affections.  

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Giacomo Lee

Giacomo is a writer and talking head who has covered creativity and creative tools for Wallpaper*, Digital Arts, Creative Boom, VICE, Little White Lies, the BBC and more. Giacomo has also hosted for Adobe and D&AD, and judged the annual New Blood Awards. He was deputy editor of Creative Bloq for a short time in 2021.