Facing the Fear Factor

Just around the time Paris Hilton went to jail, which was seconds before she was released due to a “medical condition,” a Cold Stone Creamery campaign debuted that includes a commercial making fun of a certain blonde-perfume-entrepreneur type. How lucky, timing-wise, is that?

“An heiress approaches a Cold Stone Creamery,” the announcer says, as we see a skinny young thing in a cocktail dress holding a tiny dog. She struts like she’s on the red carpet as she walks through a strip mall parking lot toward the store. Looking in the storefront window, she sees, according to the voiceover, “paparazzi, a Shih-Tzu, which she had given up for a Chihuahua, an IQ test and a prettier, skinnier, wealthier heiress.”

Alas, hasn’t Hilton, poor girl, suffered enough? Um, well, anyone desperate enough to extend her 15 minutes by batting false eyelashes and wearing hair extensions for a prison mug shot is asking for it.

Anyway, back to the ice cream. This integrated, low-budget campaign (cable, radio and a happenin’ micosite), is the first for the fast-growing franchise business. It’s not your usual spoon-in-the-tub kind of ice cream experience. Think Clockwork Orange meets Tom Carvel’s notorious Cookie Puss. It’s the first-ever advertising to take the comfort out of comfort food.

Based on the assumption that Cold Stone aficionados will face any fear to get the goods, the campaign sets up three different “Lady or the Tiger?” scenarios. In the case of the heiress, a voiceover asks if the “insatiable draw of [ice cream flavor] ‘All Lovin’ No Oven’ will give her the strength to open the door.” A series of fast cuts presents the signature Cold Stone prep in split seconds, from the ice cream being smooshed on the granite up to the addition of the cup or cone.

Meanwhile, horror movie-style type spells out ,”Do you love it or do you love it, love it?” (a phrase taken from the in-store options for serving sizes).

Obviously, humor plays a bigger role than logic, even forgetting that the heiress chick might not be up for 600 calories in a cup. And the presence of the photographer would be more like a magnet than kryptonite. But the premise is clever and the details are funny. It will surely appeal to the target audience, women 18-34.

The problem is that there’s no second half with a payoff: We never see her actually eat (or maybe throw up) the product. Does she or doesn’t she is never resolved on screen; instead, we hear the tinkle of a bell, signaling that the door has opened. (And perhaps sending a Pavlovian message to us.)

But while an ice-cream tease (any tease) makes some sense with the Hilton lookalike, it’s a bigger problem in “Big Foot,” in which a hairy fellow has to face a hunter with a gun, a Sasquatch enthusiast and a Brazilian bikini waxer. Waxing’s been overplayed, but this has a hilarious visual: an enormous wax spreader. Watching the guy galumph around in his costume is very funny; it’s certainly a category-defying ad for ice cream and appealing to teenagers. But it’s not exactly appetizing.

The third one is like a modern-day Hansel and Gretel story, one that might truly scare the kids. It shows an adorable boy in a private school uniform approaching the store, where his nemeses wait: a monster in the closet, a monster under the bed and broccoli.

(A Thai commercial for Sylvania lightbulbs uses the same monster theme, except this family just shoos them away like pesky flies because they can see them in the right light.)

The microsite, loveit-loveit.com, is fun. It offers outtakes, back stories and personality profiles of the characters, and the commercials pop up on a giant granite slab. (As the spots load, users are told they’re “thawing.”) There’s a place to vote for your favorite spot and another to offer your own story. Entrants can list a main character, their favorite ice cream creation, and three or four arch-nemeses.

Altogether, the campaign is a way to make the brand memorable. It’s like a fractured fairy tale for the YouTube crowd, and a device that allows current pop-cultural plug-ins.

But the franchise operation itself has such a strong internal culture that, oddly enough, is not reflected here. The kids who work at the stores have already posted tons of videos on YouTube to show their ice cream making prowess, which make the TV spots almost seem unnecessary. Maybe the Saatchi ads are going for the we-hate-cutesy crowd. (And if you don’t watch closely, the spots could even be slightly aversion building.)

Still, I guess the work shows that all sorts of characters have to face their own demons. The kick here is that sometimes, if you’re lucky, there’s a reward on the other side.