If you frequent internet culture sites like Reddit or Fark.com, chances are you know the “Folgers incest ad” — and if you do, you either love or hate this polarizing commercial.
If you have no idea what we’re talking about, read on.
In 2019, a number of news and analysis sites revisited one of fandom’s most popular Christmas memes, a video of what came to be known as “the Folgers incest ad.” (Really.) For those unacquainted with the clip, the Wikipedia page for Folgers included an explainer in its “Advertising” section:
In 2009, Saatchi & Saatchi created a holiday ad, “Coming Home,” where brother Peter is met by his sister at their parents home on returning from volunteering in West Africa. The ad quickly went viral and has been criticized for perceived sexual tensions between Peter and his sister.
The page linked out to a December 16 2019 long-form, deep-dive GQ piece about the Folgers ad — and its ever-growing fanbase on the internet. Its title included a common catchphrase associated with the commercial, a line spoken by the sister of the sister-brother pair depicted: “you’re my present this year.”
On YouTube, an iteration of the 2009 Folgers ad “Coming Home” was published as “Folgers Christmas Ad 2009 — Peter” by the channel MrRickmercer2001 on November 26 2019. As of December 2019, it had been viewed more than 700,000 times:
A number of commenters referenced the 2019 GQ article, but comments dating back at least six years sliced and diced the commercial’s purportedly incestuous undertones:
“The best part of waking up is incest in your cup”
“the sexual tension is real”
“Thank God their parents walked in! If they didn’t, i swear they’d just do it on the counter.”
“and his lip bite at her, thats not right”
As noted in that article, the fanfiction trove ArchiveOfOurOwn.org (AO3) features a bustling section on fan-created writing inspired by Folgers’ “Coming Home.” (Sort by “kudos” for the most popular works.) Two pages of results for “Folgers ‘Home for the Holidays’ Commercial” returned 37 fanfiction entries, but a search for “Folgers incest” produced a total of 52 results.
One of the works with a high number of “kudos” was a 2013 one-shot called “Wrapping Paper,” and its brief description read:
Jake comes home from West Africa. Megan waits to unwrap her present after dinner.
One fanfic writer, Alixtii O’Krul, told GQ they that believed interest in the Folgers incest ad germinated on fandom-favoring LiveJournal a year or two after it aired in 2009. According to that author, Christmas “fic exchanges” in 2011 or 2012 involved requests by readers for stories involving the Folgers brother/sister pair:
I don’t think [Folgers incest ad] particularly registered until people began talking about it on my LiveJournal friends list, probably around 2010 or 2011. We were used to using our shipping goggles to look for the barest hint of incestuous subtext, and so the Folgers commercial registered in a big way.
Someone had the brilliant idea of asking for Folgerscest stories in Yuletide, and the Folgerscest fandom was born. Yuletide is a fan fiction exchange for small and rare fandoms whose reveals happen on December 25. So at least some people are thinking about Christmas when they sit down to make their Yuletide nominations and requests, and that helps to keep Folgerscest alive.
According to O’Krul, the commercial’s appeal to readers and writers was multi-faceted:
The commercial has all the right ingredients for ‘cesters to glom onto it: two attractive, twenty-something leads, palpable (although presumably unintentional) incestuous subtext, and just the right mixture of sentimentality and “wtf.” Even if read as just a story about platonic siblings, it’s still overtly romantic in the older sense of the word: it provides a fantasy of loving and being cherished, of two people who love each other very, very much being reunited after a separation.
Another fanfic author, Aza Azdaema, said the brief nature of the advertisement provided ample room for fic-writers to expand on the Folgers incest ad universe. Moreover, Azdaema referenced popularly accepted fan theories (known as “fanon” in fandom, information “widely accepted among fans, but has little or no basis in” source material):
While the commercial is not even a full minute long, it offers several obvious places to easily graft on more content. For example, it’s almost universally agreed that the reason the brother joined the Peace Corps was to get as far away from home as possible, trying to outrun his incestuous feelings. What’s in the box remains an open question—I’ve seen more than one work posit that it’s a ring, and our boy is about to propose. And more works than not include some sort of jab at the idea that Folgers is “real coffee.”
Meme encyclopedia KnowYourMeme has maintained a “Folgers ‘Brother and Sister’ Commercial” entry for at least three years. Its “Origin” section notes that versions of the same ad began running in 1982, but it wasn’t until the 2009 “Coming Home” iteration that fanfic communities and shippers really responded to it:
The commercial is an updated version of a long-running Folgers commercial that first ran in 1982 in which a man named “Peter” comes home and his greeted by his [younger] sister, who is a toddler.
The updated version in which the brother and sister are closer in age first ran during the holiday season in 2009. As of December 14th, 2016, the unedited commercial has over 1.2 million views on YouTube (the video has since been deleted, shown below is a re-upload from a different channel).
According to KnowYourMeme, viewer reaction to the commercial was instant even in 2009. “Coming Home” began inadvertently building viral interest, gaining further attention in 2012 when the FunnyOrDie parodied it:
Viewers instantly noticed the sexual tension between the brother and sister in the 2009 commercial. The earliest known post to make this observation was posted December 16th, 2009 by the blog Cleveland’s a Plum. On January 10th , YouTuber Paul Prato posted an edit of the commercial in which the stare between the brother and sister is extended to convey heightened sexual tension before their parents enter the kitchen … On March 5th, 2012, Funny Or Die posted an edit to the commercial by sketch comedy group Pilotsketch in which the only change is a two-second additional shot that shows one of the siblings’ hands grazing the other’s crotch[.]
Tumblr users, many of whom also dabble in fanfic, soon became interested in the commercial and a growing body of fan works. In 2012, the Daily Dot published “How to talk to your family about that Folgers incest commercial.” It began by referencing the Folgers incest ad’s 2012 popularity on Tumblr:
1) Mention the 55,000 people on Tumblr who are totally into it.
Twitter user Nicole James had no idea what a celebration she’d kick off on November 18 when she tweeted about the infamous Folgers holiday commercial that got everyone talking in 2009 and resurfaces every year around Thanksgiving:
That same year, the now-defunct site Gawker published “Kick Off the Christmas Season with Thousands of Words of Incest Fanfic About the Weirdest Folger’s Commercial of All Time,” and heartily endorsed one of the seminal works of the Folgers’ incest ad fandom:
While all three have their unique pleasures, the clear masterpiece is the near-10,000 word “Home for the Holidays,” by “portland_rain”, an experienced author who’s also written fan fiction about, among other things, the music video for the Killers’ “Crossfire,” the video game Oregon Trail, and NPR’s humorous news quiz show Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. Yes, Portland_rain’s masterful tale of forbidden has the requisite incestuous phone sex scene, and yes, it can teach you about AIDS in Africa —
Matt hesitated. Yes. “Mothers bring in babies. And we try to help them, but they’ve been infected since birth. And there are drugs out there, drugs that can help prevent mothers passing on the virus to their kids, but they’re so expensive. They’re so hard to get when you’re in a village hours away from any city and any pharmaceutical. And so mothers bring in their kids and we have to tell them that there’s nothing we can do, because they didn’t happen to be born in a western country where this all could have been prevented.”
Libby pulled her legs up to her chest. “They have drugs for AIDS?”
— but its brutal final third, following (spoiler alert!) the brother’s death during West African volunteer work, will remind you what the holidays are all about[.]
In 2015, BuzzFeed covered the now-annual Christmas fanfic tradition of “Folgers incest” as new news; at that time, the story had been kicking around for six years. BuzzFeed’s take was screenshot-heavy, concluding with a poll: “Let’s answer this once and for all, are the Folgers siblings hooking up with each other?”
53 percent of respondents voted “There is no doubt in my mind that these siblings are def hooking up,” and 47 percent chose “No and I wish I could delete this entire post from the internet.” In 2018, Reddit’s r/videos had a post about ad as a new tradition:
During the commercial’s ten-year anniversary coverage spree in 2019, one of the two actors was interviewed by the Evansville Courier & Press. He said he didn’t mind the years-long interest from the unusual corners of the internet:
[Matthew Alan — or Matthew Gerbig] said he still gets recognized for it, he says, and he loves Folgers for giving a young actor a chance.
“It was so early on in my career that when people were teasing about it, first I was like, ‘No, no, you’re missing the point. It’s a good commercial,’” he said. “I was very protective of it at the beginning, but I think that had a lot to do with it being my first job.
“But as time went on, I love the fact that it’s this discussion topic that people laugh about. Some of the spoofs and the different edits that I’ve seen are pretty hilarious.”
It’s clear that the “Folgers incest ad” is perennially popular across social media, and it has been since its debut in 2009. We are unsure whether it began with LiveJournal fanfiction, humor site parodies, or something else — but watching and re-watching the commercial somehow became one of the internet’s most observed holiday traditions.
As far as we know, Folgers has not commented publicly on the virality of its “Coming Home” ad.