It took some 35 years, but ‘80s metal band Ratt has finally returned to television screens with the sort of frequency it hasn’t seen since its MTV days.
In a popular campaign for Geico’s home and car insurance bundles called “Ratt Problem,” frontman Stephen Pearcy and his bandmates illustrate an unexpected nuisance for homeowners. The group’s biggest hit, 1984’s “Round & Round,” becomes a metaphor on repeat as the band pops up in popular rodent spots like the basement, kitchen and bathroom.
The spot has amassed more than 8 million views on YouTube, and has aired north of 10,000 times since April 13, with an estimated media spend of $21.1 million, according to iSpot.TV. It’s also been aided in its popularity by being one of the first humorous spots from a major brand to debut post-quarantine, when the tone has shifted to more somber, united-together messaging.
“We definitely talked about the timing on our side,” says Justin Harris, vp and creative director at The Martin Agency’s, Geico’s ad agency of more than 25 years. “At the end of the day, we realized people want to feel a sense of what’s normal again. It didn’t take us long to figure that out, and it was a great way to stay true to the brand.”
Such a coveted combination of on-camera cameo and prominent sync placement would typically be measured in the real world by boosts in concert ticket sales and anecdotal shout-outs to Ratt’s members at airports and supermarkets. But in a pandemic, such metrics are harder to come by, with Ratt’s touring currently on hold until summer 2021 and in-person outings obscured by masks.
Still, Pearcy has seen a few indicators of his increased cachet just steps outside his Los Angeles home. “There’s a really cool grandma that lives next door to us and she goes for walks,” he says. “One day, I’m out there with a hat on and swim trunks — just beach wear, right? — and she goes, ‘Are you in a commercial?’ I said, ‘How would you know that?’ She goes, ‘Well, you have a lot of energy.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Alright, that’s what a national commercial means.’”
Geico’s Ratt campaign is the latest in a long history of showcasing well-known songs and musicians over the years. In 2015, Europe’s “Final Countdown” (a No. 8 Hot 100 hit in 1987) achieved its first Billboard No. 1 on the Hard Rock Digital Songs chart after appearing in a popular Geico campaign, selling 37,000 downloads and achieving 6.8 million streams in the first week after it aired.
Earlier that same year, Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” saw a surge to 3.8 million streams and 50,000 downloads over a four-month period when the rap duo starred in a spot bringing its 1988 top 20 hit to life.
And in 2009, Country Music Hall of Fame honoree Charlie Daniels starred in a memorable spot that asked the questions, “Can Geico save you 15% or more on car insurance? Does Charlie Daniels play a mean fiddle?”
The spot was the first one that Harris personally worked on during his years at The Martin Agency, as well as the first time he saw a Geico ad’s impact up close after a member of Daniels’ touring team came down to the agency’s headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, to pay his respects. “He said, ‘I wanted to stop by and say thanks,’” Harris recalls. ‘“Oftentimes you may not realize this but it affects a lot of things. You start selling more albums, which leads to more tour dates, which leads to bigger crowds. It impacts the crew and their families and all this stuff.’ It was really cool to hear that.”
While it’s too early to tell the commercial impact Geico’s exposure has had on “Round And Round,” it’s already played an important role in extending the band’s cultural currency and bringing its sense of humor to the forefront. Where some bands might have bristled at the concept of being compared to vermin, Pearcy embraced the tongue-in-cheek treatment and the opportunity to revisit his band’s best-known song. “It actually reminded me of our first video with Milton Berle,” he says.
In fact, the song’s new life 36 years after its release has another full circle meaning, as Pearcy points out. “It’s ironic because in 1984, it was the Year of the Rat in the Chinese calendar, and it’s the year of the rat in 2020. What goes around comes around? No pun intended.”
Songs For Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.