LBB talks to the man behind the unnerving ice cream virals, director Doug Garth Williams
Since hitting YouTube three days ago, the Little Baby’s Ice Cream films have garnered nearly 1.5 million hits. We caught up with director and creative Doug Garth Williams about the virals that bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘ice cream headache’.
LBB> What was the brief from the Baby’s Ice Cream people and how did it lead to the final films?
DGW> There actually was no brief. The owners of Little Baby's Ice Cream were familiar with my work and specifically contacted me to create something for them. They left it completely open and what you saw is the concept I came up with.
LBB> It’s a very… different approach to advertising ice cream – how did you convince the client to get on board?
DGW> The ellipses in your question say it all. As unlikely as it sounds, they honestly didn't take too much convincing. The reason the owners approached me in the first place was that they knew if they gave me freedom on this project I would give them a concept that would stand out and have a good possibility of going viral on a tight budget.
We were originally going to shoot one commercial but I came back to them with two treatments. One was this wide eyed androgynous anthropomorphic ice cream creature, confronted with an existential dilemma. The creature has all of the normal self-preservation instincts, but at the same time is made of this unimaginably delicious and addictive ice cream. The question is 'Would you eat yourself?' And the answer is 'Yes. You would. You just taste too damn good.’
The other was an apparently endless loop of those same sentient ice cream beings locked in an infinite cycle of gleeful cannibalism - consuming and being consumed. I sent them my two treatments and they quickly approved them both. They were behind my vision for it from the beginning.
LBB> The actor manages to be very creepy. How did you cast them and what notes did you give them?
DGW> During casting I was paying careful attention to the eyes. Based on how I planned to shoot the film, I knew that the eyes would really stand out. The actor, Asa, had these piercing, distinctive eyes.
In terms of directing, I needed to get this character to a very weird place. It was certainly not an easily communicated state of mind. It was important to talk out the scene with the actor in a very deliberate way. The basic idea for the scene was that the character was literally giving up an important part of themselves in pursuit of the incredible sensation that devouring their own ice cream body provides. It's pretty twisted but they are actually lobotomizing themselves as the ad proceeds. As they eat, their original sense of self decreases and the compulsive drive to consume their own delicious ice cream body grows.
The result is best described as "creepy", and I agree with that adjective for sure. But the backstory and that very specific way of thinking about the character was necessary to make sure it was just the right kind of creepy.
LBB> Why did you opt for the very limited monochrome colour palette?
DGW> That was an important point for me. There is so much strangeness in this concept that I didn’t want to add in any extraneous elements that would distract from the experience. A very crisp, clean, and bold look became very important to me from an aesthetic point of view but it also keeps the viewers’ attention focused.
LBB> The voice over is also pretty unsettling. In terms of the recording of the voice over and the sound design, how did you make sure it was as effective as possible?
DGW> Jon Guez did a great job with the music which was an unnerving version of the classic ice cream truck jingles. For the first ad called ‘Love Lickers’, the voice over was completed before the video and informed a lot of the pacing of the video. However the voice over for the second spot, ‘This is a Special Time’, was put together in a pretty interesting way. I shot and edited the video first and then the very talented voice artist, Matthias Bossi, recorded about 20 improvised versions using only the video as a guide.
Each version was very different in terms of phrasing, subject, and pacing. I took all of the distinct versions and cut them up. I then mixed and matched sentences, half sentences, and single words together into a new take. In the end the voice over you hear is not any of those improvised takes, it contains Frankensteined fragments from about eight very different versions. It results in a very odd rhythm and a combination of words that heightens the atmosphere. It also gave me a chance to have some fun doing sneaky things like slightly extending the pause between "I eat Little Baby's..." and "ice cream".
LBB> The films have gained over a million views on YouTube already and have garnered a lot of press attention - why do you think people have responded so well to them?
DGW> In my work I often think about confounding expectations. The aim is to hit people with something unexpected that knocks them out of autopilot and demands their attention. This was the perfect opportunity for that. Ice cream comes complete with its own implicit branding; we think of childhood, summer days, innocence and family. We turned all that on its head. It's a very unusual and somewhat disturbing commercial and our pre-existing associations with ice cream provide the perfect context to amplify those aspects even more. That's the reason it's been so successful.
I should also mention that another reason this works so well is that in this case the brand itself is all about playing with the expectations of ice cream. They create unique and unexpected flavours like "Balsamic Banana", "Earl Grey Sriracha", and "Bourbon Bourbon Vanilla" which surprise people. One might initially think that even though this campaign has been wildly successful at getting attention, it is an inappropriate match with an ice cream company. However if you dig a little deeper into the company you'll realize the videos mirror what they are trying to do themselves. They are a very innovative and unconventional small business with their own strong interest in subverting expectations and creating original experiences. That's why they felt good about approving such a twisted video.
As soon as I came up with the concepts I never had any doubt these commercials would attract a lot of attention. I'm looking forward to doing some more.