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Sheriff’s ice cream commercial goes viral

An unsuspecting driver reacts as Sheriff Greg Hagwood delivers ice cream cones in this image captured from the Wall’s Ice Cream commercial on YouTube.
Dan McDonald
Managing Editor


A puzzled driver glances at the rearview mirror, trying to figure out why she has been pulled over by the Plumas County sheriff.


“Are you familiar with vehicle code 339472?” the sheriff asks.


“Yeah,” she responds before admitting “… No.”


She wasn’t alone. Dozens of unsuspecting drivers didn’t know the vehicle code for DWI (driving without ice cream).


They do now.

And so do nearly 2 million people around the world who have watched a commercial starring Sheriff Greg Hagwood.

Going Viral

The Wall’s Ice Cream commercial featuring the Plumas County sheriff, released April 28, had 1,736,290 YouTube views as of Friday, May 23.

Below are the significant viewership milestones:
May 9: 500,000
May 12: 750,000
May 17: 1,000,000
May 20: 1,500,000

The Internet commercial for Wall’s Ice Cream went viral just days after its April 28 release. In less than a month, the commercial has 1,736,290 YouTube views.

Producer Danielle Watchman, of DDB California, said Wall’s and its parent company, U.K.-based Unilever, are thrilled with the commercial’s popularity.

“The response has definitely been a nice surprise to us, especially since Wall’s didn’t purchase any media to promote it,” Watchman said. “Our client is very, very pleased.”

Wall’s didn’t plan to run the spot on television. It was designed with the Internet and social media in mind.

But since going viral, the plan might change.

Watchman said it has the potential to be a TV ad. “I think the client is considering it,” she said.

Watchman said her company edited the 1 minute, 46-second commercial down to 60-, 45- and 30-second spots just in case.

Wall’s sells ice cream in dozens of countries. In the U.S., its products are sold under the Good Humor brand.

This commercial is one of about a dozen that targeted the U.K. market. None of the other commercials have received anything close to the response this one has.

The sheriff’s commercial took off after it was featured by the Huffington Post and Good Morning America’s website just a week after its release. In the following days, it was linked and posted to dozens of websites.

Watchman said it’s the most successful commercial she has been involved with. She gave much of the credit to Hagwood’s performance.

“He was amazing, actually. Better than some of the professional actors we work with,” she said. “He’s a natural.”

Watchman said the sheriff made her job easy because he acted the same way during each traffic stop. That helped the editing process.

“I don’t even know if he realized how helpful he was,” she said. “His ability to deliver his lines … He was very professional.”

Hagwood said maybe that’s because he was just being himself.

“There was no script,” the sheriff said. “We just ad-libbed as we went along.”

While the candid commercial was purposely unscripted, it definitely had a message. It was part of Wall’s “Goodbye Serious” marketing campaign.

In the commercial, which also featured a professional actor and Sheriff’s Sgt. Carson Wingfield, Hagwood is seen behind the wheel of a patrol car parked next to the courthouse. He’s on the lookout for serious drivers.

“That looks very serious,” Hagwood says as a car drives down Main Street. “I don’t think we are going to be able to let that go. Let’s light that up.”

What follows is a series of candid-camera moments as drivers try to make sense of the question “Do you have ice cream on board?”

The commercial drives home its message when officers return with enough cones for everyone in the car.

Responses ranged from hysterical laughter to tears.

“People need to lighten up a little, I think,” Hagwood says to Sgt. Wingfield, who adds, “It’s getting to be a real problem here.”

The overwhelming majority of feedback has been positive. Hagwood has received messages from all over the country and the U.K.

“It has been a lot of fun,” Hagwood said. “I really want to thank the people in the community who initially were unwitting participants in this. They were all very good-natured about it.”

Watchman said she and her crew were charmed by the community during their three days in Quincy.

“Quincy was amazing. We all fell in love with it. Everyone was so pleasant,” she said.

She said the sheriff, his staff and the unsuspecting drivers were “so good-natured.”

“They all rolled with the punches,” she said. “This was a social experiment … putting people in an awkward situation and see how they will react. People don’t like to be stopped by the police.”

While the people in Plumas County have been good sports, not everyone enjoyed the commercial’s humor. A few websites had comments from viewers who said it wasn’t appropriate for officers to give drivers ice cream. Some called it a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.

Sheriff Hagwood said he doesn’t pay too much attention to the critics. “I tell them to go relax and have some ice cream.”

Hagwood emphasized there was no cost to Plumas County. He donated his time and Sgt. Wingfield came in on his day off.

One top of that, Wall’s donated $5,000 to the community — $2,500 to both Plumas Arts and the Plumas County Animal Shelter in Hagwood’s name.

After the April 11 filming, the production crew hosted a free ice cream social, featuring live music.

When he was first pitched the idea for the commercial, Hagwood said he had two main conditions: “The bottom line was this has to promote my community and it has to reflect well on my agency. I said if you can accomplish that, then I will agree to do it.”

To help ensure the commercial would have the desired result — and to keep any bureaucrats from potentially killing the idea — Hagwood kept it a secret for five months.

After the fact, Hagwood said he wouldn’t have handled it differently.

“The whole goal is to bring a positive measure of exposure to Plumas County and to promote our communities and our people in a positive and supportive light,” he said. “If it should cause some people to come and visit us, then so much the better.”


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