N. Shatrujeet

Halls: Full-throated appeal

The new commercial for throat lozenge brand Halls reinforces the brand’s therapeutic positioning by striking the balance between 'fun' and 'functionality'

Cavernous villain's den, complete with closed-circuit television screens, stacked-up drums, ‘aquariumed' sharks, garish flashing lights and inconsequential dancing girls. Police Commissioner and Mrs Commissioner, imprisoned in a narrow glass chamber, wriggle helplessly as a bubbling liquid slowly fills the ‘torture chamber'. The arch villain, seated in a high-backed chair-cum-throne and hedged in by sorry-looking flunkies, guffaws at the futile cries emanating from the glass chamber. ‘Chillao mat, Commissioner, sirf tees second baaki hai,' he chortles at the prospect of the agony that is to follow.

Just then, the ceiling gives in and ‘Beta' comes crashing into the den. ‘Maa, main aa gaya…' he shouts to Mrs Commissioner reassuringly - but all that comes out is a barely-audible croak as he gingerly feels his sore throat. Meanwhile, unmindful of Beta's entry, the dancers dance, the lights flash, and Mr and Mrs Commissioner struggle to keep heads above bubbling liquid. Shouting another hoarse ‘Maa, main aa gaya', Beta trapezes over the dance floor and leaps off a strategically placed drum. Not a soul takes notice of him.

Frantic, Beta lands next to the villain's chair. ‘Maa…' he gasps, and taps the villain's sidekick for help. Without looking his way, the sidekick hands him a Halls. As Beta mournfully pops the lozenge, the voiceover (a la Shatrughan Sinha) goes, ‘Halls ka Vapour Action formula gala refresh kare aur band awaaz khole.'

The lozenge takes immediate effect. ‘Maaaaa…' our hero shouts at the top of his voice. Beta's high-decibel voice causes the glass torture chamber to smash, rescuing Mr and Mrs Commissioner from liquid death. The shout also breaks the villain's glasses. And his nerve. ‘Halls. Goli nahin, awaaz ka gola,' the voiceover announces, as Beta belts out another lusty ‘Maaaaa…' Another glass shatters, this time the one that kept the villain's pet crocodile in confinement. Free to wander, the monstrous reptile waddles towards Mr and Mrs Commissioner, much to their horror…

This completely spaced-out take on ‘the 70s cinema' (which made legends out of names such as Shakal, Mogambo and ‘Loin') has a very un-Hallsy feel to it. Especially considering Halls advertising has traditionally been functionality-driven, and more importantly, extremely matter-of-fact. Scratch the surface, however, and what you get is a commercial that reinforces the brand's relief-from-minor-throat-irritation positioning by striking the balance between ‘fun' and ‘functionality'.

Of course, fun and functionality have almost always gone hand in hand for the brand - although the fun element did not always come through in the advertising. In fact, of all the traditional throat lozenge brands in the country (Vicks and Strepsils being the biggest competitors), Halls has the least ‘medicinal' association. "By virtue of its relief-from-minor-throat-irritation positioning, Halls has the unique advantage of straddling both the ‘therapy' and ‘fun' zones," says an executive with Contract Advertising, which has created the new film. "As a result, its usage occasions are varied, and not restricted to the traditional lozenge usage, as is the case for Vicks or Strepsils. Halls commands a unique equity as a do-good candy."

For the record, Halls competes with "serious throat lozenges" such as Strepsils and Vicks (and new entrant Himalaya Throat Drops), as well as with ‘mints' such as Polo and Mint-O. "The secondary competition is other ‘50-paisa candies' such as Alpenliebe and Googly," says Cadbury India (Cadbury acquired the Halls brand globally last year). The company adds that Halls is the market leader with a third of the ‘functional' market. "The market share of Halls is approximately 30 per cent in throat lozenges, inclusive of mints like Chlor-mint, Mentos et cetera."

Interestingly, while Halls' positioning might have stayed true over the years, brand advertising has often scuttled between the therapeutic and the fun platforms. And the advertising from two years ago briefly visited even the ‘freshness/refreshment' platform (remember the ‘freshness waterfall' campaign on television?). Contract, which recently acquired the account in India after Cadbury's international acquisition of the brand, reveals that the ‘refreshing' platform "was ventured into to broad base usage and appeal, but it was felt to be alien to the core of the brand, and might have been discordant for loyal users".

The desire to broad base usage - "without diluting the brand's core" - and increase frequency of consumption is the key objective behind the new communication as well. All this by focusing on the brand's therapeutic aspect and steering clear of the ‘freshness' platform. "The reason for the existence of Halls will always be ‘relief from minor throat irritation'," says the agency. "This is also in alignment with the global strategy being adopted for the brand."

Focusing on the therapeutic aspect is fine. Imparting a ‘non-therapeutic' feel and flavour to the advertising so that it stuck - that was the challenge that Contract had to meet. "To strike the right balance between fun and functionality, the throat association had to be the crux - without making the ad clinical and ‘Vicks-like'," the agency explains the creative strategy. "The creative leap taken, therefore, was to associate Halls with the ‘voice'. ‘Voice', while being undeniably rooted to ‘throat', was, creatively speaking, an interesting leap, amenable to interesting creative." (Incidentally, the advertising for Himalaya Throat Drops also uses ‘voice' as its communication peg.) "Our ownable benefit, therefore, was: Halls cures minor throat irritation that restricts the throat, and results in a clear voice. Why? Because of its Advanced Vapour Action, that refreshes the throat and enables a clear voice. The creative leap was Halls gives you a booming voice."

Given Halls' need to come across as a fun brand, the decision to ply the humour route is easy to understand. And the easily spoofed Hindi-film-climax scenario - that bottomless reservoir of mindless fun and entertainment - afforded the right kind of situation for a fun-based proposition such as ‘Goli nahin, awaaz ka gola.'

The Team:

Client : Vidyut Arte, Himanshu Khanna, AS Giridhar

Account Management : Vikas Bahl, Ayesha Ghosh, Manish Hariprasad, Aparna Garg

Creative : Raj Nair, Avinash Sampat, Rajesh Kulkarni

Director: Prasoon Pandey

Production House: Corcoise

Contract Film Unit : Beena Thakur, Manjula

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