The Geico Effect: How the Goofy Ads Led to a Big Payday for Europe and Salt-N-Pepa

Rob Verhorst/Redferns
Europe photographed in 1987.

The members of veteran hard-rock band Europe were eager to show some self-deprecating good humor by starring in a goofy commercial for Geico insurance, but they weren't interested in becoming the butt of a joke. The group insisted on rerecording its synthesizer-heavy 1986 hit, "The Final Countdown," leaving that era's big hair, guyliner and costumes behind. "If they had wanted the original song and for us to dress like we did 30 years ago, we wouldn't have done it," says lead singer Joey Tempest. "We wanted to look how we look now and do a version of the song that's new and raw and tough."

Geico was happy to oblige -- with advertising executives at The Martin Agency saying they never intended to parody Europe or the song (a longtime staple at sports arenas) -- and helped the band look as contemporary as possible for the ad's concept, which features the group performing in an office lunchroom while a worker microwaves a burrito.

It's the latest in a series of Geico ads (tagline: "It's What You Do") that puts pop-culture icons in intentionally silly situations. The company has used legacy artists several times in the past, including Salt-N-Pepa, Eddie Money and Kenny Rogers. However, to paraphrase a line from another touchstone (This Is Spinal Tap), toeing the fine line between clever and stupid is more challenging than it might seem.

"Bands are always skeptical when we approach them because they want to make sure it'll be funny but not a spoof of them," says Sean Riley, The Martin Agency's creative director. "The guys in Europe understood that they would be part of the fun."

Europe Enjoys First No. 1 on a Billboard Chart Thanks to GEICO Ad

The TV commercial has been in heavy rotation since its debut in September, and it is responsible for Europe's first No. 1 on a Billboard chart: "The Final Countdown" has held the top spot on the Hard Rock Digital Songs list for four weeks. It has sold 37,000 downloads in the weeks following the ad's premiere and has logged 6.8 million streams in the same period, according to Nielsen Music. (The tune previously was a chart-topper in 25 countries, but not in the United States, where it peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1987.)

Industry sources say that such ads usually command around $400,000, half each to publishing and the label, for one year (more for a superstar artist). But Geico is known for being thrifty, so the total take could be between $100,000 and $300,000. Reps for Geico and Martin declined comment.

Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" enjoyed a similar bump, clocking 50,000 in sales and 3.8 million in streams from November 2014 through February 2015. But the Geico tide does not lift all ships: Money and Rogers had just minor boosts.

Tempest says the ad will likely "give us some legs" when Europe returns stateside in January to promote its latest album, War of Kings. "We didn't think too much of it at first -- just that it was fun and turned out well," he says. "It's more than we ever expected."

This article was originally published in the Nov. 7 issue of Billboard.