nostalgia

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.

Elusive articles

I was hanging out with my buddy Jim a few weeks ago and I told him about an old magazine article that had stuck with me for over a decade. It was in a Canadian magazine called Shift which was a tiny competitor to Wired. I really liked it as it seemed focused less on the industry that was making websites and more about the culture and subgroups that were using technology.

Needless to say, it went under many years ago. But the main article that had stuck with me was this imagined interviewed between the author of the piece and Pac-man. The premise was that Pac-man was now a has-been. Similar in premise to Bojack Horseman.

At the time it had opened my teenage eyes to creative writing that tackled something that was real (Pac-man's cultural impact on entertainment and videogames) in a high concept way.

I cherished that mag for many years, keeping it safe and fairly un-damaged in my room. Then I gave it to my girlfriend in college ("former girlfriend;" we went in for the long haul) so she could use it for some of her collages. For whatever reason I hadn't tried to save the articles from it. Stupid past Ben.

Now this issue is my white whale. The year 2000 was not exactly the dark ages. But there are a few things compounding the *ahem* issue of finding anything from that magazine.

  1. "Shift" is not particularly SEO friendly. There is another, unrelated magazine with that name in Japan.
  2. When I've done some searches it pulls up car magazines. Another dead end.
  3. Of course, at the time they kept a lot of articles print-only and weren't around for more than a few years so there isn't an archive of their old articles.

I was able to determine the specific issue from an image description.

The issue in question featured Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons on the cover. That showed up as the January/February 2000 issue. Awesome.

Using that information I headed over to Archive.org to do some more digging. Sadly, the archive record is pretty spotty for early 2000s Canadian technology magazines, so I had to make do with coming this close to the remembered awesomeness.

Behold. WWW dot SHIFT dot COM circa 2000. There isn't a cache of the exact months that the January issue was current, so it shows up only as a past article. Shame on Shift for not even including a byline on the one article that most needs it, it also had illustrations which probably deserved a credit. Many of the links are still clickable but they just lead to error messages that there's nothing cached. So much for "living in digital culture".

I'm so close and still so far removed. It's slightly more than a memory and I'm pretty sure no one else is seeking this stuff out. But it's interesting to dig around in that middle age between when we didn't record anything online to keeping every minute detail. Before the internet "vacuum of data" was on full blast sucking up everything. All this stuff that is frozen at that moment but still inaccessible.