For approximately nine centuries it was deemed a reasonable standard for coffee excellence. "Good to the last drop," and all that. But now, thanks to Starbucks, we realize the stuff is bilge.
It's hard to know what's worse. ... spending $3 for a cardboard-cup of coffee or facing the reality of what we drank for our whole previous lives. Either way, at least here among the Eastern Liberal Media Elite, the familiar blue can is long gone. Not only do we have three Starbucks within falling-down distance of our domicile (and one under construction in, like, our nose), we merrily skip past the stacks of vacuum-packed brands in the supermarket to grind our own blend. It's priced like radium, but worth every penny.
So credit Kraft and Ogilvy & Mather, New York, for fighting the good fight. It's no fun going from head of the class to declasse. It's worse when your archrival-P&G's Folgers-surges ahead of you in sales. And it's worse still when Wall Street rolls its eyes at the quaint stubbornness of trying to revive a mere $248 million cash cow.
But here's the thing. It's a big country out there, and it is composed mainly of non-Wall Street analysts and non-Eastern Liberal Media Elites, many of whom require caffeine therapy but question the value and convenience of froufrou Sumatra grandes served by petulant artists, students and underemployed sociology Ph.D.s.
Ubiquity is not the same as universality. Most of America drags its ass out of bed and makes a beeline for the coffeepot and the elixir of life, with zero interest in the country of origin.
In its new campaign, Ogilvy aims not only to cultivate these people but to enlist them, to make the blue can a badge of the red states, to make coffee selection a battlefront in the culture wars. And a brilliant first salvo it is.
The venue is a firehouse-i.e, the epicenter of heroic, middle-American values. There a cheerful team of salt-of-the-earth first responders performs a deftly-altered sing-along version of Madness' buoyant "Our House":
We are Ladder 59. We chase our food down with good coffee all the time.
Our house...is not a fancy place at all. Our house...we have pinups on the wall.
We're not a frilly coffee crowd. Give us rich fresh flavor, we'll put gallons of it down.
Our House, it's always good to the last drop. [Shouting in unison] Make your house a Maxwell House!
It's a good-natured call to arms, but a call to arms nonetheless-as in "Take that, you mochachino-swilling metrosexuals!" And it is not without precedent. If Volkswagen and Saturn can embrace identity politics by defining their communities as defiant of some vulgar and ostentatious Other, why not Maxwell House? Just replace the 20-foot-long Cadillac with a skim decaf latte.
Besides, if you filter out the Creationist cranks and the most hateful bomb-throwers of the far right, there's something to be said for red-staters' claims of bicoastal cultural imperialism. From Paris Hilton to California Pizza Kitchen to 50 Cent, Middle America more or less has to settle for what the elites decide to serve.
That can be hard to swallow, especially in your own house.
Review: 3 stars
Ad: Maxwell House
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather
Location: New York