Sunbeam sends Mr. Coffee for face-lift in new campaign

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Advertiser: Sunbeam's Mr. Coffee
Agency: FCB Worldwide, New York
Ad Review Rating: Three and one-half stars

Tis the season to sell all sorts of crap you'd never buy the rest of the year, unless a major housewarming or minor wedding comes up. Tis the season, therefore, for Sunbeam.

Through its various brands, Sunbeam sells electric blankets, toasters, electric skillets and other low-interest housewares - "The kind of things," in the immortal words of Ad Age's Bradley Johnson, "banks used to give away."

Perhaps you've noticed, however, that Sunbeam has been conspicuously absent from the advertising scene over the past few Christmases. For this, we'd have to give most of the credit to "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap, who - on the strength of his reputation for ruthless cost-cutting and turnaround genius - was brought in back in 1996 to fix Sunbeam.

Bless him, he took the bloated little company and worked his magic. After only two years, he sawed off costs, acquired some assets with growth potential and performed accounting alchemy so extraordinary that the Securities and Exchange Commission is poised, according to the company's lawyers, to lower the boom big-time.

Before the company was forced to restate earnings, it was selling for $59 per share. It is now hovering around 44¢. For this and for his creative bookkeeping, Al, in 1998, got chainsawed his ownself.

All of which is to say, this Christmas - in order to service the mountainous debt Al piled on with his brilliant acquisitions - Sunbeam had better sell a whole mess of electric blankets and coffeemakers. Enter, then, FCB Worldwide, New York. It is on cable with ads for Sunbeam blankets and, most notably, for the recently acquired Mr. Coffee.

Yes, Mr. Coffee - the lean, mean, caffeine machine that revolutionized 7 a.m. only to fade into obscurity - is back on TV in a wonderfully charming and funny commercial that will surely dress up the agency's reel, whatever apocalyptic future awaits its beleaguered client. The spot opens in the office of a fictional plastic surgeon.

"Well, I've done hundreds of face-lifts in my career," the doctor says to the camera, "but this one was different. I mean, he's an icon."

He refers not to a human patient, of course, but to Mr. Coffee. The spot is intercut with the "documentary" footage of the consultation and surgery. "I just think you need to update your look a little," he says to the coffee maker, as he examines an x-ray of the previous design. "I don't want to change the essence of what you stand for. Softer lines through here. Curves in here. Maybe move your button."

"It was a bit tense at first, but, uh..."

"Scalpel," he says, in the operating theater, but is handed a clamp. "I said SCALPEL!"

"Went well. Turned out very well. Now all my patients come in and ask for the 'Mr. Coffee,' and I say, 'No, he's the only one who can pull that look off.'"

Then, the voice-over: "Mr. Coffee. The legend lives on."

Well, we'll see about that. But if Sunbeam fails, it will be no fault of this advertising. This commercial is a very ingenious way to grab and hold viewer attention for what is today basically a commodity appliance. The spot does, indeed, put this classic brand back into play. The only flaw is that the final shot - after the gauze bandages have been removed from the "patient" - doesn't give us quite a lingering enough view of the handsome new machine. Very streamlined and European looking compared to the old design, which looked like an albino Pla-Doh Fun Factory.

Sunbeam at the moment is a no-fun factory, but, ho, ho, ho, Christmas is just around the corner.

CORRECTION: Due to our own extreme carelessness, for which we are unable to even subtly shift blame, Ad Review credited the wrong office with the new brand campaign for Levi Strauss. The work was done by TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco. We apologize deeply for our error, and hope it wasn't a subconscious act of hostility or symptom of a tragic neurological deficit. In any event, a holiday basket has been sent to all affected parties. Allergy sufferers beware: There are nuts in the cheese ball.

Copyright December 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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