Behind the delightful success of Tag Team’s hit commercial with Geico
How a classic tune and the hip-hop capital of the world brought the ad to life
French Vanilla. Rocky Road. Chocolate. Peanut Butter. Cookie Dough.
When senior copywriter Roger Hailes penned those nine words, alongside just two measures of music, he probably didn’t know how many lives would be changed as a result. For the past two months, one commercial has overtaken the advertising world through an incredible coming together of a classic tune, a powerhouse marketing campaign and, of course, the hip-hop capital of the world: Atlanta.
In the commercial, a woman is minding her business in her kitchen, when a disembodied voice asks Tasha (the character) if she’s familiar with their product. Then, in jest, Tag Team shows up and the magic begins.
For some, 1993’s “Whoomp! (There It is)” by Tag Team is most easily described as a one-hit wonder. If you want to look more closely at the selection, one could qualify it as a Jock Jam, too. If you’ve really been paying attention, you know it’s seen quite a few spins on the Disney Channel and KidzBop circuit as well. At this point, it’s far more than just a chart topper from back in the day – when you had to listen to the radio to hear your favorite songs.
But for D.C. Glenn and Steve Gibson, the rap duo from Atlanta, the track that won the 1994 Razzie Award for Worst Original Song has definitely provided them with the last laugh, as well as laughs for plenty of other families for generations to come. You might have called it corny, they called it positive partying. It is most undoubtedly impactful.
In the nine-trey, as we liked to call it at the time, I listened to all sorts of ridiculous rap music. This joint was just another one of those songs, but everyone from little league knew the words all the way on down to the Sunday school kids I had zero desire to hang out with. I was 12. Whatever. I know every word and always will whether I want to or not. I’ve just heard it that many times.
We’re talking about a song that begat an actual Addams Family remix, all while fighting off not just a song of an extremely similar name and theme, but also survived a pretty serious multi-decade lawsuit that almost ended the whole run, after the New Orleans Saints began playing it regularly in the Superdome after touchdowns. It’s an original party rap song that has seen some things.
So when the artists were approached by Martin Agency, the advertising group that works with the Geico insurance company, they weren’t worried about becoming just another cog in the nostalgia machine that seems to fuel all content these days. They saw the success of Salt-N-Pepa’s Geico work and it made perfect sense.
“That was the easiest decision we probably ever had,” Glenn said this week. Now a voice actor and motivational speaker who’s done everything from DJing in strip clubs to building websites for clients, he saw another chance to get his music work back in the fray and make dollars.
“Not only can it get you out there again, but it can, if you hit the charts again and [then] you’re going to be on tour, right? So for us, it was just a chance to, you know, make that happen. I knew how big this was, this is a national SAG-AFTRA [Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] commercial. And those don’t come along but once in a lifetime, you know what I’m saying? And we had to take advantage of it. So we had to kind of try to mold it in our image and just do us.”
Which is wild, because this commercial was almost about soup.
Saturday Night Live has been through a bevy of iterations. Whatever your era may be, there are certain gems that stick out from the rest. Justin Timberlake is an artist who has profited grandly off said shtick, and his 2006 sketch called Cup O’ Soup featured him, dressed up like an instant ramen package as a busker, singing a song that goes “Soup, There It Is,” and you get the idea. It stuck.
Fast-forward to now, when the Martin Agency is looking to cast Tag Team. Only problem, Tag Team wasn’t feeling the idea. It had already been done. Plus, soup doesn’t sell like ice cream.
“They were so involved in the process that there was no way they were going to be put in the wrong light because they wouldn’t, they weren’t going to allow it,” Danny Robinson, the chief creative officer at the Martin Agency, said of Tag Team. “What was great is all they were asked of is to be where they are.”
Hailes would have to come up with something else.
“I don’t know what he wrote. It may have been some tomato in lobster bisque and potato leeks,” Robinson joked.
Overall though, the connectivity to Black nostalgia is a very real thing. How we process in modern (and after) times what we loved in a different era is an important part of our culture and people’s storytelling process. It might have been easy for Tag Team to say yes, but that doesn’t make the burden any less difficult in execution. You don’t want to be the people who screwed up the thing so many folks already liked.
Alas, for Martin Agency, this is their bag. The Dikembe Mutombo ad? That was them. The Ickey Woods throwback? Them too. Oprah’s “You Get A Car?” bit? That was Robinson. They know what they’re doing when it comes to nostalgia, particularly for Black folks.
“Can’t do what we do for long and not find places to use Black nostalgia,” said Robinson, who is African American. “Because our nostalgia is rich and deep and wide. People beyond Black people love it.”
To complete the cast, they would of course stay in Atlanta.
Many years back, actress Nicci Carr was working on her accents. English, Spanish, Australian, whatever it took to seem believable. She took her craft very seriously. Her audience of second graders at Edison-Friendship Public Charter School in Northeast Washington did, too. “Tough crowd, 6 and 7-year-olds,” Carr said with a laugh.
Those days of being herself as an educator led her to Hollywood, where she wanted to go after the dream just like so many other folks who set sail for California. Having moved to Washington from Richmond, the native New Yorker figured why not, and took a shot.
She booked a few things, but like so many other tales of Hollywood, it didn’t work out. She fell in love, got married, got divorced, and landed in Atlanta, back working in teaching, this time in higher education (which she also did in California to make a living), and she still does now, while working on a degree.
“So one day I was doing academic advising and outside of my door, window, they were taping like, Pitch Perfect 3. Or Ironman. And I was like, ‘God, are you calling me back?’ ” Carr said this week, thinking about how she was motivated enough again to try. You might remember her work as a woman who got a bunch of money stolen from her wallet in season two of FX’s Atlanta.
“So here I am, in Atlanta, and I’m getting more work here than I was in LA. But this Geico [spot] is … the biggest opportunity that I’ve been blessed with,” she says between tears. “It’s 17 years of hustling and bustling and changing my clothes in the car and waiting in LA and driving and putting on wrong shoes, rushing out, you know, putting on a black shoe and a green shoe, rushing some auditions to get to work.”
When the day of the shoot arrived, Carr knew she was in a spot she’d worked hard to get to and was absolutely gonna nail it.
“I was a hip-hop dancer. I’m almost 50 years old. So that’s what I do. You know what I’m saying? And so [director Dan Opsal] was like, Nicci, I know it’s hard for you not to dance, but just try to do some elbows,” Carr explained, demonstrating with examples. “So I started doing elbows and pop-locking and it’s like elbows, but the day of the show I was mesmerized. They make me feel welcome.
“You know, they encourage the hype.”
There’s a point in every classic piece of content in which you get hooked. The part where you realize: I like this. Sometimes there comes another point when you come to grips with the fact that maybe that same part is a reason you will always like something, beyond just the next time you see it. The trolls call this living rent-free.
Anthony Goolsby’s entrance into this commercial as the husband/father has been operating a full-blown, high-volume restaurant’s worth of business in my head since I first saw it during the Super Bowl, and has paid not a dime for the space.
Goolsby himself is a dad, so the move was routine.
“I teach improv to kids, right? So you never know what’s about to happen. I don’t like to come in knowing what I’m about to do. I don’t even have any words,” he says, describing his method in the scene. “So it was all in my face. Right? So I’m like, what, why are these guys here? And then I look at [Carr], and I see them with the ice cream and I’m like, and ice cream?! So now it’s all starting to come together. We got Tag Team in the house, one, and we eating ice cream? And the music? WHOOMP, right? [Demonstrating the move.] I can’t tell you. I don’t even know what that is. I was just with the flow, man.”
Goolsby, 39, who is from Decatur, Georgia, was a college baseball player who also spent time as a high school umpire. He joined an improv troupe a while back and now has bigger dreams of being a character actor regularly, after graduating from college with a degree in industrial engineering. The fact that GEICO ended up picking three Black folks (including Amethyst Davis) from the same Atlanta troupe was quite a feeling, as well.
“They didn’t know, they got three improvisers on the same team,” Goolsby pointed out. “We just knew we were gonna play it. I thought it was dope, man. ‘Cause they’re having fun. You reaching a whole new group of people.”
And just like everything else in this ad, it was freestyled. Yes, the Kid ‘n Play part, too. None of that was scripted, nor was the sprinkles toss, arguably the top moment of a 40-second ad with like 10 of them.
It was conceived as an ode to LeBron James.
“You know, sprinkles came from an ode to LeBron James where he goes to the scorers table and throws up the chalk. And I know kids love sprinkles,” Glenn said. “I wanted this commercial to be with little kids, saw it, they’d go, mama, I want to party like that.”
Which for Gibson, who is now in the phase of his career in which he’s working on mastering records as a craft, is a welcome emotion and lane.
“I wanted us to keep our gray beards because man, we aged,” he said unapologetically, sitting in front of a wall of records and CDs in his Atlanta-area home. “When we got to the set, I just wanted the energy. I’m an energy guy, man.”
Overall, the phenomenon that is the ad is evident. Everyone involved feels like they did what they wanted to, which is half the battle. Say what you like about the gatekeepers of rap who may or may not appreciate what our latest desires for the old days may mean in terms of what we laud now versus then, to see Black folks who’ve been dedicated to the game still alive and kicking is a warm sight to see in 2021. Hailes believes the band he remembers from high school was properly represented. But the commercial will soon be out of heavy rotation.
Everyone involved has bigger goals, of course. But little things like a positive ad that portrays a Black family having fun in their homes, safely, goes a long way in keeping that fire burning, never mind the lights on. Tag Team isn’t making new songs, because, clearly, they’ve got a hit with this one. So stop asking.
“You still got a hit record, 20-something years later, you better milk it for everything you can, because it’s not going anywhere,” Glenn said. “So any opportunity that comes to us from [the song] has to be fashioned into something positive for us to make some money off of. And we have become really practical and masterful at doing that.”
As the kids say: There it is.