Old product, new use, good campaign

It's a pretty good sign your ads are working when people start talking about them. Not just ad people, but real, ordinary, flip-the-channel-in-a-nanosecond people. And by that standard, it sounds like the Halls golf course spot is a winner.

It’s a pretty good sign your ads are working when people start talking about them. Not just ad people, but real, ordinary, flip-the-channel-in-a-nanosecond people. And by that standard, it sounds like the Halls golf course spot is a winner.

It’s also a winner by my standards. In case you haven’t seen it, it features an average golfer – meaning, like most of us, a lousy one – whose ability to yell ‘Fore!’ is impeded by something akin to laryngitis.

Unable to warn his unwitting targets, the young man bounces several shots off several nearby skulls, until he remedies himself with a Halls lozenge. His throat improved but not his game, he then shouts a clear, high-decibel warning and scatters most of the membership on the clubhouse patio.

The spot is well-created, well-cast, well-directed and actually contains an idea. As a matter of fact, they super the idea in a tiny little legal disclaimer, right at the beginning of the spot. It says, tucked away so nobody but a fanatical columnist would notice it, ‘Throat irritation due to overuse’.

In other words, Halls will help you if you yell too much. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you yell at your kids, your underachieving football team, or to make yourself heard at a rave – if you’re having trouble yelling, Halls will fix it.

Years ago in a quieter time, I’m not sure that would have been a recommended strategy. There didn’t used to be a whole lot of yelling going on. John Wayne would yell as he charged a machine-gun nest, Ralph Kramden would yell at Alice, and that was about it. But today, in this era of primal scream therapy and road rage, I think maybe Halls is on to something.

They’re not the first advertisers to breathe life into an old product by promoting a new use. Rice Krispies took their snap, crackle and pop out of the cereal bowl, told you how to mix it with marshmallowy goo, and invented a cloying confection that became so popular they’ll now sell it to you pre-gooed.

Johnson & Johnson took advantage of a growing trend in the sixties and sold their baby oil as a tanning agent. The ads were sexy and effective: child-women looking basted and lovely, captioned, ‘Turn on a tan with Johnson’s, Baby.’ To the company’s credit, when the ozone layer started to deteriorate and the need for sunscreen became more known, they voluntarily withdrew their successful campaign. But first, it worked.

A couple of my favorite consumer product re-uses have never, to my knowledge, been advertised. I’ve been told that a lot of good old Preparation H, yours in ointment or suppositories, is used as an anti-wrinkle cream. Hey, it makes sense. If it can shrink puffiness down there, it can shrink puffiness up here.

And back when I toiled in the U.S. Army Combat Engineers, the PX’s (Post Exchange stores) used to sell a heck of a lot of 5-Day Deodorant Pads. Yes, 5-Day Deodorant Pads. I’m not sure that their basic reason-for-being had a lot of clout, but some smart guy discovered – I’d love to know how – that they shone combat boots until you could see your face in them. Kept the brand going a long, long time.

Lots of consumer staples, from Silly Putty to Viagra, were discovered by scientists looking for something else. The point being, those dull plant tours and sessions with research chemists can be very fruitful hours for agency people. Smile, put on your hard hat or hair net, and go. You’re likely to find a new product use, a new way of marketing an old standard, or at the very least, as Halls did, a lovely commercial for your reel.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING * CREATIVE THINKING.’ He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com.