Unlawful Ice Cream: Police Detain Drivers in Ad Video

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In an era of hidden video and gotcha ads, one brand may have gone too far in its quest to garner attention for its summer ad campaign.

The above video features a 90-second hidden-camera spot for Wall’s Ice Cream, a brand owned and operated by Unilever UK.

In it, six motorists are stopped by sheriff’s deputies in the small town of Quincy, Calif., a small town with a population just under 2,000 people nestled not far from the Nevada state border. One by one, the motorists, all homogeneously white and seemingly middle class, are told they have been pulled over for failure to adhere to a vehicle code which prohibits the operation of motor vehicles without ice cream.

Each motorist then grimaces with a look ranging from relief to mild irritation as a deputy hands over Wall’s Ice Cream products.

One deputy tells a motorist, “Are those real tears? Can I see you with your sunglasses off?” as she wells up teary-eyed.

In a few short weeks, the video has garnered more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.

No matter how well-intentioned the sheriff’s department may have been, the issue at hand is the legality of the actions portrayed in the video. Even Ad Week, a trade publication for the advertising industry, openly questioned whether or not the video portrayed a fun prank or documented an abuse of power.

Article IV of the Constitution forbids the unlawful detainment of citizens and a motor vehicle stop without cause qualifies according to a 1979 Supreme Court decision. The case of Delaware v. Prouse found that stopping an automobile and detaining its occupants constitutes a “seizure” as defined by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

In short, a police officer, who stops and detains someone from going about their day better have a good reason — dispensing frozen, sugary dairy products to the citizenry you have been sworn to protect does not qualify as good reason.

It is hard to tell what Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood, who had to sign off on the stunt and who, alongside his deputies, are prominently featured in the campaign, was thinking. Perhaps he was trying to portray the Plumas County Sheriff’s Department as a kinder, gentler sort of law enforcement organization. More likely, he probably never stopped to fully consider the consequences of his actions or its repercussions.

Suffice to say the video was likely never meant to be seen by a U.S. audience. Wall’s Ice Cream products are not sold in the United States, and the products handed over by the officers to the unsuspecting motorists are identified as Cornettos by The Daily Mail, a product not available on store shelves in the U.S.

The video is part of a larger multi-channel advertising relaunch of the Wall’s brand this summer. It is the first time in almost a decade that the brand has done any advertising.

The campaign created by Adam&EveDDB, which launched a few short weeks ago is entitled “Goodbye Serious.” The ads are clever and visually appealing. The basic premise campaign focuses on the serious and mundane of everyday life and aims to inject levity through ice cream.

One print ad features an office printer liquefying into a pool of melted ice cream.

Featured in Summer 2014 Wall's Ice Cream print campaign.
Featured in Summer 2014 Wall’s Ice Cream print campaign.

Another minute-long video spot features delegates, presumably at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, synchronizing their interjection buzzers to spontaneously belt out the hook of Salt-N-Pepa’s 1987 classic “Push It.”

Whether or not the campaign will successfully attract more people to buy Wall’s products remains to be seen.

However by manufacturing a serious incident, a traffic stop, on the part of the motorists seems far short of the ice cream company’s goal to say “goodbye to serious.”

Life is serious enough without an ice cream brand messing with you.

Joel Mazmanian is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @joelmazmanian.

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