A bizarre, cougar-themed Halls ad is pissing people off and weirding others out:

You've seen it: a middle-aged mom, presumably moving her son into his dorm room, and the son's nerdy roommate, share a Halls Refresh lozenge and a weird moment of sexual connection. Then her menfolk walk in and are suitably appalled. ("Surprisingly mouth-watering," leers an insinuating voice-over.) The American Decency Association has called the ad "perverse" and its founder explains, rather oddly, that "I believe that an advertisement like this really does grease the skids and does further promotion and legitimization of elderly ones with younger ones — and it's like putting fuel before the fire."

"Elderly ones with younger ones" are also the theme of Cougartown, of course, during which the lame ad ran, and presumably the show's fans were neither unduly shocked nor influenced. But the ad is, certainly, problematic, albeit for a number of different reasons. Slate's Seth Stevenson, while he finds the add bizarre and silly, thinks this is a bit of a tempest in a teapot - that it's in the tradition of recent absurdist candy campaigns and too outre to be taken seriously. The bigger question, for him, is who the hell the commercial is targeting: boys or moms? Candy's aimed at kids, but the spot's placement - and its virtuous lack of sugar - suggest that it's playing to mom tastes, which Stevenson finds duly dubious.

In a way, I'm with the ADA, because the continuing perpetuation of the cougar/MILF thing is indeed creepy. If the ad featured a dad and a young female nerd, it would be universally shunned and it's time we stopped pretending that the reverse is always the stuff of harmless fantasy. That said, the ad's a send-up of the cougar phenomenon's absurdity, and if that's a signal of shark-jumping (or, as Hortense has suggested we rename it, "pulling a Scrappy-Doo"), bring it on.

But what bothered me most was sort of exactly this: this isn't a MILF and a strapping stud: it's a frumpy middle-aged woman and an Asian nerd, shorthand for "NOT SEXY!!!" That's why it's funny, you see: these are two groups whom no one would ever find attractive if not under the influence of the cough drop! (Note the action figures and equation.) That, after all, is what the husband and son are reacting to: not just the inappropriate dynamic, but the fact that these non-sexy types are breaking out of their designated roles. "Surprisingly mouth-watering," is after all, the tag-line. One can only imagine what other treats Hall's Refresh has in store!

Of course, at the end of the day, Stevenson's right: it's just a dumb commercial, and these people occupy Commercial-Land, in which all husbands are single-digit stupid, all moms are knowing, all kids are sassy and precocious, and everyone, given their bizarre enthusiasm for fast-food promotions, is apparently stoned, always. All this, presumably, makes us want to buy stuff. And if that's true, Stevenson shouldn't even question the targeting: we are, it would seem, morons. Who eat cough drops for pleasure.

Can Cougars Sell Cough Drops? [Slate]
Halls Refresh Commercial - Mom [YouTube]