Ad Rant: Halls Refresh gets fresh in the dorms

Imagine you're a teenage boy whose parents are helping you move into your freshman dorm. Ooh, the excitement of starting college! You and Dad are hauling some cartons in, when suddenly you stumble across Mom having some kind of orgasmic têtê-à-têtê with your dorky new roommate. Ewww!

That's what Halls is serving up in a bizarre ad for its new product Halls Refresh, giving new meaning to the concept of "hard candy."

The roommate offers Mom a Halls Refresh and takes one himself. They suck their candies with exaggerated lip-smacking movements while they lock eyes and go into a mutual, implied reverie. They look like they've been to an opium den, not the candy counter.

That's when the son and his dad show up and respond with predictable outrage and disbelief.

The ad is trying for "wacky" more than sexy. If they were going for sexy, they'd have cast a foxier looking "cougar" and a studlier looking freshman. Had Halls wanted to imply that their candy will hook you up, they would have used a more traditional approach, not one that results in arm's-length fantasizing. Or, at least they could have taken a page from the 1983 movie Class, in which Jacqueline Bisset, Rob Lowe and Andrew McCarthy form the triangle in the quad.

Halls is not sending the message that if you buy this candy, you'll get lucky with an age-inappropriate partner. The message is more along the lines of: If you buy this candy, you will personally feel as if anything is possible -- even the ridiculous. (Or the nauseating.)

What's "icky" about the ad is not actually the age difference between the mother and the roommate. It's the idea of the woman's son bearing witness. Children notoriously don't want to acknowledge that their parents ever have sex with anyone, let alone with their buddies.

It's skeevy, sure. But my interest lies in the syrupy mess of things Halls is making for itself. It looks like the company has broken one of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, as put forth in the popular book of that title by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Ah, here it is, Rule No. 12, The Law of Line Extension: "One day a company is tightly focused on a single product that it highly profitable. The next day the same company is spread thin over many products and is losing money."

What are that mom and college freshman chewing with such relish, anyway? Halls Refresh is a "mouth moistening" sucking candy that, as Halls explains in a letter sent to people who have complained about the ad, "is totally unique within our HALLS portfolio." Totally unique = Ignoring Rule No. 12.

You see, Halls is famous for cough drops. We all know that. When we hear "Halls," we expect cough drops and lozenges and throat soothers. When we have a cold or a sore throat, we pop a Halls and expect something appropriately medicinal, both in taste and purpose. Not something that makes us want to have sex with someone several decades our junior or senior.

Two final questions to ponder along with the great questions of the universe:

1) What is "Advanced Moisture Action," anyway? Halls puts a Trademark symbol after the phrase-which is not the same as an "RX," by the way. "Advanced Moisture Action" is not purporting to be a remedy or even a technique or a theory, just a slogan that sounded authoritative when they made it up.

2) Who needs a "mouth moistening" candy? I guess it's someone with dry-mouth. Perhaps it's someone in business who has to give a big presentation, or a teenager afraid to ask his roomie's mother for some Mrs. Robinson action. In other words, someone who's nervous. Is this ad saying that Halls Refresh will make you so mellow you won't even notice when your behavior is inappropriate?
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