American media is riddled with sales pitches that promise immediately gratifying health, happiness, and satisfaction. As intended, this kind of manipulation certainly worked on my malleable child brain. I actually believed the commercial that suggested I’d be able to tear my Manglor toy limb from limb and be able to reassemble it (almost) good as new, and so I had to have one. Much like Ralphie’s rite-of-passage-realization that Little Orphan Annie was peddling him Ovaltine, my once-played-with Manglor torso served as an early lesson in false advertisement and disappointment.
As an adult I consider myself savvy enough to see through the ruse and resist the pitch no matter how convincing it is. No amount of miserable women unsuccessfully cutting onions will convince me that I need an Onion Bully; I don’t feel the need to eat at Carl’s Jr., despite the sexy model in their TV spots; and no amount of entertainingly bizarre singing mothers will get me to wear Old Spice. Some advertising manages to repel me from the product being pitched. This is common in television spots that depict a bumbling husband attempting a simple household task with catastrophic consequences. Nearly destroying the home and killing the entire family, he is rescued by the brilliantly resourceful wife/master of housework who employs the help of (insert miracle-product here) to save the day. I find it alarming that these tired gender stereotypes still exist.
Apparently, I’ve been fooling myself by believing that I am immune to the hypnotic persuasion of American advertising. The following is a story of how a 35 year-old sales pitch sold me a vintage can of decaffeinated coffee. Whenever I get a new pair of sneakers, I’ll leave the empty shoe box out for my cat Quint to play with. As is common with cats, Quint manages to squeeze himself into the box no matter how tight the fit. The result is an overflowing rectangular fur-loaf. Quint’s enjoyment of the box earns it a temporary reprieve from the recycle bin. I feel like shoe manufacturers are missing an advertising opportunity—Shoes. Now with free cat toy!
Once while visiting, a friend of mine marveled at Quint’s contortionist talent and remarked, “Look at him, he fills the box to the rim!”
Almost as if in a trance I uttered, “Fill it to the rim with Brim.”
Losing interest in the cat-loaf, my friend asked, “Why did you say that?”
“It’s from that old coffee commercial, Brim. Remember; fill it to the rim with Brim?”
“Yes, but isn’t that from 30 years ago?”
I corrected that it was probably a bit older. My friend, a fellow nostalgist with whom I’ve spent hours watching old television commercials, seemed amused that I’d retained such an old advertising catch phrase, which had reawakened the dormant memory in him. I admitted that the catch phrase never really left my consciousness and that every time I hear the phrase “fill it to the rim”, I finish “with Brim.” Thanks to YouTube we reunited with the commercials that once interrupted our viewings of The Incredible Hulk and Mork & Mindy.
This incident, that I’ll call The Brim Recollection, became an enduring joke between us. Soon after, I found an unopened can of Brim on eBay and bought it. At only $7 including shipping, I couldn’t pass it up. The seller was careful to mention that the coffee was over 30 years old and should not be drunk. I included a note with my PayPal payment expressing how excited I was to have a cup of my favorite decaf coffee once again. The seller did not respond. (“How satisfied were you with the seller’s communication?” One star.)
For a few laughs, the $7 asking price seemed more than worth it. Besides, I genuinely love the 1970s design aesthetic with the modern (for its time) lower-case pseudo Impact typeface. It’s a masterpiece of color-blocked gold, orange, and burnt umber worthy of Warhol. Also, it goes well with my wife’s ancient can of unopened Spam Lite (we are SO prepared for the apocalypse).
What occurs to me now is that this decades-old ad campaign successfully sold me a can of coffee. I’m not even much of a coffee drinker, and certainly don’t enjoy the taste enough to drink it without the benefit of caffeine. Evidently my kryptonite to advertisement brainwashing is a clever turn of phrase. I’m powerless against things like “Move over bacon, there’s something leaner,” or “Milk. It does a body good.” This would also explain how I ended up with a “Where’s the Beef?” t-shirt. And mug. And Clara Peller biography.
Brim Decaffeinated Coffee disappeared from shelves in the 1990s when its maker General Foods was absorbed by Kraft Foods. River West Brands has since acquired the brand, and has re-purposed it as a Keurig clone. As stated in an article on Notes from the Undergrounds, River West Brands relies on “brand residue” to sell new products. Given the current remake/reboot culture, it makes perfect sense. This brand residue is the very thing that amused me and my friend through The Brim Recollection. It was effective enough to stay with for us decades like a dormant virus, or a corporate sleeper agent patiently biding its time. I have to wonder what current ad campaigns are subliminally infecting my mind. I’ll let you know in 35 years.