Herewithin and forsooth, my absolute, all-time favorite TV ad, something worthy of Mad Men's Don Draper on a good day. I've analyzed it frame-by-frame, and I'm still coming up with things I didn't see or hear in it before.
We hear almost before we see - a hesitant, then more self-assured sound, a coconutty sound of something blipping and blurping appealingly in a funny sort of tune. Then we see a trio: a suggestion of breakfast in the upper left corner (on circular plates, the first of many circular motifs), and, dominating the picture, an old-style (then standard) "coffee perc", the kind that produced a burnt, tongue-dissolving brew.
The camera loves this pot, for soon it's zooming in, tight, then tighter. The top of the perc, the blippy part, suddenly fills the screen in a closeup that can only be described as intimate. It appears to be repeatedly ejaculating into the little glass dome. By now the merry coconut theme has accelerated and is clopping away, something only a musician could compose. ("Hey, let's put some sound effects in the background. You know, the sound of the coffee perking.")
Meantime, we have a shot of the pot exuding, nay, gushing steam, in a sensory blast that dares us to inhale. The next shot is so brilliant I swoon when I see it: the wide, round, white cup poured full of black coffee sits in the very back of the frame, surrounded by nothing. Nothing! Just the cup. Then a giant male hand comes out from the right-hand side, picks up the cup and lifts it up and forward so that the black coffee fills the entire screen.
Some giant is drinking this coffee! Then comes another arresting shot: the cup and the coffee can standing next to each other, two circles, with the dominant image on the right. It's said that Mickey Mouse is so appealling because he's made up of circles, maybe because they're non-threatening and remind us of ova and baby's heads.
One more split-second shot of the coffee being poured, a sort of review. (This is like some sort of mini-drama in one minute: it's crammed with images, but somehow seems leisurely.) Then in the next shot (every one is significant in this ad), someone is holding up the round can to face the camera. The rich-looking ground coffee is literally shoved in our faces, and on the left-hand side there is a small avalanche of coffee that might just have happened by accident, and was kept in for sensory value.
I haven't even mentioned the voice-over, which is equally brilliant: see, smell, taste the coffee flavor! As with most early ads, there is a lot of repetition, but in this case it's more hypnotic than annoying. The name Maxwell House is mentioned five times in one minute. "Taste", as in "tastes as good as it smells" or "taste the coffee flavor", is mentioned six times. This ad appeals to every sense (listen, look, smell, taste) except touch, but that's why that big hand comes into the frame, almost erotic.
When you first watch the ad, none of this registers. You have no awareness at all of the fact that you're hearing the brand five times, or that "tastes as good as it smells" (the slogan) is being drilled into your subconscious. Some guy in a rumpled suit with a hangover came into the office, plunked himself down and said, "Well, guys, I've got it."
"How's that gonna work? It's too simple."
"But that's just the point. We want nothing but straight, clean, simple images, with circles, tight closeups and a lot of repetition. We want those idiots at home to listen, look, smell, taste the coffee flavor, whether they want to or not! We want them to hear "tastes as good as it smells" so often, they go numb."
"But what's going to happen at the grocery store?"
"Nothing. But faced with a few varieties of coffee, their hands will gravitate. They won't know why. In their subconscious, they're going to hear that blurple, blurple, blurp, blurp. . ."
"Hey, I've got a better idea. "You get a cup and a half of flavor. . . "