Wilkins and Wontkins were some of Jim Henson’s earliest Muppets. They were created to advertise Wilkins coffee and were hugely successful. They were in use for Wilkins, and other brands, from 1957 to 1968. Animators can learn a few things from them.
First, it has to be said, these commercial spots are violent. Wilkins is remorseless in his efforts to get Wontkins to drink the coffee. That’s a strong personality.
But since this is cartoon violence, we know Wontkins will be back next time.
This is a basic comedy duo of a straight man and a stooge. The stooge is sometimes referred to as “he who gets slapped.”
These spots are only 8 seconds long. That timing still works in today’s world of shortened attention spans. Watch several of them, and the basic formula will become obvious. The scene and situation are quickly established, Wilkins makes a pitch, Wontkins responds with the wrong answer. Then Wontkins suffers a quick and brutal response. It makes an impression on the viewer. That violent end is a sort of visual exclamation point, creating a finale in a very short period of time. I can imagine the audience became accustomed to these commercials and got a quick laugh while being reminded of the brand. Television airtime is pricey, and these spots delivered a huge value for their money.
This compilation is over 14 minutes long. That’s a lot of 8-second spots. Henson had the imagination to crank them out.
The design of Wilkins, and the Jim Henson voice, certainly reminds us of Kermit the Frog. It needs to be said that Henson made the astute business decision to retain the ownership of the puppets. He commonly did this, and it worked out for him in the long run. Advertising can be a money factory, and it helped Henson get his other productions funded. Here is a compilation of the puppets promoting other brands.