Working Man’s Brews

If you were watching Mad Men last night, chances are you saw a guy named Ted wandering into a restaurant holding an auto-drip coffee maker and a Maxwell House mug. In March, Maxwell House rolled out a campaign called "Stay Grounded" starring Ted, a dude's dude here to save us all from the horrors of high-end coffee.

In the ad titled "French Press," Ted (played by Chicago improv actor Todd Stashwick) walks up to a table where a waiter is preparing coffee with a French press. "Is this what we're doing now?" he asks incredulously. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I love the French. French fries, I love French kissing. But they lost me at the French press. I don't want a plunger anywhere near my coffee," he says, fondling said plunger as if it were a toilet plunger. "Not in my house." With Maxwell House French Roast, he informs the couple sitting at the table, you sit back and "let gravity do the work." And then the tag line, by New York agency mcgarrybowen, flashes across the screen: "Stay grounded."

A more accurate tag line would have been "Stay stupid." Because if this commercial proves one thing, it's that, at least for consumers of supermarket ground coffee, ignorance is next to godliness. Not only is the French press much older than the auto-drip coffee maker (and thus more "grounded"), it doesn't even require highfalutin electricity. Also, you know what's even more "back to basics" (the term Maxwell House uses to describe the commercial) than tins of pulverized instant coffee? Coffee beans.

All of which makes one wonder: Why did parent company Kraft think the Ted campaign would be a good idea? Who were they hoping to appeal to? Watching the commercial, it's hard not to think of the millionaire politicians who employ the same Average Joe posturing to convince America that they're no different than the regular, hardworking folk whose votes they covet. The enemy is elitism. By that logic, one could theorize that Maxwell House's enemy is high-end coffee, the kind poured at Third Wave temples like Blue Bottle and Stumptown, the kind that makes ground coffee look hopelessly behind the times. So Maxwell House is on the defensive.

The only thing worse than Ted would be some bearded hipster in a plaid shirt rhapsodizing about the PBR of the coffee world. But there has to be a better way to prove your relevance than showing off how proud of your own ignorance you happen to be. Instead of French Roast, maybe Maxwell House should have called it Freedom Roast.

Image source: Maxwell House / Facebook

Rebecca Flint Marx eats and writes in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.