An off-puttingly sexual ad for Halls Refresh.

Advertising deconstructed.
Nov. 9 2009 3:11 PM

Can Cougars Sell Cough Drops?

A mom and her son's roommate share a naughty moment in a spot for Halls Refresh.

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First, Halls Refresh is sugarless. This is an attribute not traditionally prized by young fellas, who like to guzzle down sugary colas and munch on 500-calorie burgers. The young man shown in the ad surely wouldn't be watching his weight. But the mom might be.

Looking up Halls Refresh on a search engine, I found a bunch of blogs that had been given samples of the lozenge to review. These samples were handed out by people trying to promote Halls Refresh. What sort of blogs were the samples given to? Almost exclusively blogs written by professional women and stay-at-home moms.

A press release introducing Halls Refresh also suggests that the product was designed to meet the needs not of carefree young men but of harried adults. Its first paragraph declares that Halls Refresh is the perfect antidote whenever you get "the feeling that your mouth needs a refresher just as your presentation begins, when meeting the in-laws, when running errands under a tight schedule …" Not a lot of 18-year-old guys spend their time worrying about meeting in-laws. Or running errands, for that matter.

The clincher? Cadbury aired this ad during the premiere episode of Cougar Town, the Courteney * Cox-starring ABC show about an older woman who is forever scheming to date younger men. Referring back to my cast-your-target-demographic rule, I have to assume that a show with Courteney Cox in the lead role is meant to appeal to Courteney Cox-age women. Though it's not totally clear to me why portrayals of cougardom are fun for middle-age women to watch. Is it an affirmation that they are still sexual beings? Or do they relate to Cox's foibles and take comfort in the show's sympathetic humor?

I have similar questions about the Halls Refresh spot, if it is, indeed, aimed at middle-age ladies. Do women fantasize about sharing a naughty moment over a lozenge with a scrawny dweeb? Being caught by their husband and child mid-suck?

Perhaps Cadbury—which has for the past several years been diversifying out of chocolate and into sugar-free chewing gum and cough drops—wants to reach a new category of consumer but doesn't yet know how to market effectively to anyone over 19. Or perhaps it hopes to split the difference, by pitching Halls Refresh to young men as a candy while telling grown-up women it's a functional cure for dry-mouthed moments.

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Grade: C-. The ad's goals seem muddled. Worse, it's not funny. Cadbury didn't respond to my inquiries by press time, so I can't be sure about their intentions. But what do you think? Who, if anyone, does this ad appeal to? Send your thoughts—and suggestions for other ads to review—to adreportcard@gmail.com.

Correction, Nov. 9, 2009: Due to an editing error, this article originally misspelled the first name of Courteney Cox. (Return to the corrected sentence.)