Tip a little out of your cup tomorrow morning for David Bowie, fellow Coffee Achievers

By on January 11, 2016

It was 1984 when we were told, over and over again, while listening to “Hold On Tight (To Your Dream)” by the Electric Light Orchestra: “YOU are the New American Society, the movers, and the shakers. YOU are the NEW Coffee Generation!”

The male announcer frankly sounds like he’s pretty jacked up on caffeine himself, booming happily like he’s excitedly describing an Olympic event, but then a soft female voice drops in after him, softening the mood and cheerfully purring: “Because coffee is the calm moment that lets you think. Coffee gives you the time to dream it, then you’re ready to do it. No other drink does that like coffee!”

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In this TV commercial that aired constantly on cable TV networks like MTV and the USA Network, home to “Night Flight,” David Bowie is just one of several celebrities — but don’t blink because he’s only onscreen for a split second, in onstage footage that looks like it was filmed, at crotch-level in one shot, during his Serious Moonlight tour — helping the National Coffee Association in their bold attempt to change the image of coffee.

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Apparently, coffee sales were suffering at the time and needed an extra jolt, so the NCA — who had hired the N. R. Kleinfield agency to create the $20 million promotional ad campaign to get a new generation hooked on coffee, which in the early 80s was still thought of as that nasty brown stuff your parents would percolate up in a worn out Corningware coffee pot, to go along with their breakfast bacon and eggs.

The idea was to turn coffee into something that might appeal to the new MTV generation of the Eighties, because it was being endorsed by cool people like Bowie, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Kenny Anderson, author Kurt Vonnegut, Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson of the band Heart, actress Cicely Tyson, comedian Jane Curtin, singer Joe Jackson and Allison Rose, marathon runner (yes, we had to look some of them up).

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The New York Times, writing about the ads in 1983, said the NCA were concerned that people weren’t drinking enough coffee:

Over the past 20 years, coffee has been slipping out of favor. In 1962, three-quarters of the adult population regularly drank coffee. Now, only a little more than half of the population does. Twenty years ago, regular drinkers would average a little over three cups a day. Now two cups is the average.

The coffee association is trying a new tack in its campaign. Most advertising by coffee makers is directed at people who are 35 to 60 years old, since they are the heaviest sippers. The trade group is shooting for the 18- to-35-year-old audience, far more modest sippers.

”We’re trying to build a solid consumer base for the future,” explained George Boecklin, president of the National Coffee Association. ”We feel that young people need to be convinced that coffee does play a role in upper-mobile, active people. We think there’s an under-appreciation of coffee by young people.”

Only, here’s the thing: The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus were made aware of something said in another commercial in the same TV campaign — chiefly finding a problem with the claim “You are the new coffee generation because coffee lets you calm yourself down and picks you up” – and so they decided to investigate whether that was true or not.

That same commercial also said “Coffee gives you the serenity to dream it, and the vitality to do it,” but we’re not sure if they had a problem with that or not, because face it, it’s a little hard to sort out if something gives you the serenity to dream, ain’t it?

We’re not sure what happened with the claim, but the ads did stop airing, and a whole new generation of “coffee achievers” got hooked on the stuff because coffee sales are through the proverbial roof. So to speak.

So, if you’re stopping by your favorite Starbucks tomorrow on your way to work, you might wanna tip a little out of your Grande cup of Joe for the Thin White Duke, as he’s at least partly responsible for what appears to have been a very successful campaign. Or maybe he didn’t even know about the ad, who the hell knows…. but tip some out for him anyway if you can afford it.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.