Advertising isn’t what it used to be. Whereas billboards on freeways, television commercials and full-page spreads in glossy magazines used to do the trick, pushing products to hungry consumers, our over-stimulated eyes and ears are so used to traditional sales ploys that they rarely work anymore. Instead, marketing moguls have begun to look to less traditional methods—viral youtube videos, seemingly unplanned public spectacles, paid actors in costumes handing out fliers on busy city streets—to hawk anything and everything from the latest technology to face wash to a new type of car. And now, thanks to three guys from Brooklyn, the sweetest branding technique to date has emerged—the free ice cream party, which kicked off the first of eight events at Bushwick Country Club, offering free BBQ and Maker’s Mark milkshakes. And what are they selling? Well, nothing, exactly—they just want you to hear their band.
Adam Nelson, Mark Katz and Tim Sullivan—aka Domer, Katz and DJ Smut Villain—are the masterminds behind the six-month-old website-slash-sensation freeicecream.net, a medium through which the three budding Brooklyn buddies organize and advertise parties, events and concerts offering free food, free stuff and, of course, free ice cream. Nelson, Katz and Sullivan are all musicians, and make a variety of different types of music together. In the last half-year, they have put out a total of eight releases, under a range of aliases, featuring artists, MCs and DJs from all around the neighborhood. Initially, they came up with the idea for an ice cream party as a way to thank their fans for coming out and paying to see their live performances—to give a little something back. Ultimately, growing sick of always charging their friends for their music, Nelson, Katz and Sullivan decided that they would much rather give it away for free—and while they were at it, decided to throw in an ice cream cone or two, for good measure. They thought of a name, came up with a logo, bought a web domain name and, thus, freeicecream.net was born. In addition to complementary grub and dessert, the freeicecream.net guys also provide plenty of copies of their albums to give away to anyone who wants one.
“We all make music and we’ve been doing hip hop shows and parties for awhile, and we started doing these fan appreciation events, because people come see us all the time and have to pay,” Nelson explained. “So, we threw a free barbeque, because we wanted everything to be free for our fans. And somehow ice cream became a mascot for everything.”
Apart from their desire to treat their fans to free parties, food and music, Nelson, Katz and Sullivan recognized that, in an age of internet downloading, the traditional market model for selling music has all but completely dissolved. Who wants to purchase a CD when one can easily download its contents for free? And so, they sought to build a free-enterprise by employing a win-win model: The three founders get a little name-recognition and exposure for their musical ventures, while their friends, fans, supporters and neighborhood barflies get some schwag. Who wouldn’t wanna?
“Who doesn’t love ice cream? Who wouldn’t want to go to a free ice cream party? There’s no down side,” Nelson said. “It’s marketing, we are branding ourselves and our music. But on the consumer end, we are throwing parties and giving out free music. It’s a way for us to offer great free events for everyone who has been supportive of us. And it’s mutually beneficial. Hopefully people coming will grab a cd and like our music, but if they don’t, hopefully they will just have a great time. It’s nice to look out and see everyone having a good time, especially with our stuff bumpin’ in the background.”
Originally, Nelson, Katz and Sullivan had to foot the bill every time—paying for cd production, food and ice cream—but, as the events become more high-profile, they have since begun building partnerships with local establishments willing to host their events, as well as sponsors who want to donate their products, in exchange for a little exposure. For example, their latest venture, Free Ice Cream Sundays! at Bushwick Country Club, is sponsored by Maker’s Mark, who donates enough booze to mix up batch after batch of whisky-infused milkshakes, while BCC provides ample grilling supplies. And the music? The soundtrack is always one or more of Nelson, Katz and Sullivan’s projects.
Even though the website has only been around for a mere six months, each event is getting bigger and bigger, according to Nelson. And, as their free enterprise continues to grow, and they continue to secure sponsors, lucky Brooklynites can expect a very sweet summer. Free Ice Cream Sundays! will be at Bushwick Country Club every Sunday, beginning next week, through the month of August.
And so, while there may be no free lunch in this day and age, here in Greenpoint/Williamsburg, at least there’s free ice cream.