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Bob Geldof recalls disastrous dead rat publicity stunt

By | Published on Friday 29 May 2020

The Boomtown Rats

Bob Geldof has recalled an early Boomtown Rats publicity stunt put together by the band’s US record label in the 1970s. It was so simple, but went so badly wrong that he reckons it is the reason the band never broke America.

Now, every music journalist, radio presenter, TV producer, and other person of perceived influence has had piles of crap sent to them by record labels to promote new releases. Especially if they were being a music journalist, radio presenter, TV producer or other person of perceived influence in the era when music PR meant sending a mountain of jiffy bags out every week, full of promo discs and other promotional crap.

Most of that promotional crap became an annoyance between one and four seconds after it was unwrapped. Some people tried to make their gimmick stand out, though budgets were often a barrier for the imaginative. But sometimes it worked.

I got some soap once, that was good. Soap is useful. Standout items don’t have to be useful, though. Just a genuine surprise to break the monotony of our otherwise meaningless lives. That said, while a dead rat in a box would definitely be a surprise, I’m still quite glad I wasn’t in the right place at the right time to enjoy this particular gimmick.

Appearing on BBC One’s ‘The One Show’ – which, for anyone outside the UK, is a bit like ‘This Morning’, but in the evening and not on ITV – Geldof explained the label’s clever marketing plan: “It was 1000 dead actual rats, which were ordered from the sanitation department of New York City and sent out from Chicago to 1000 disc jockeys who were busy playing disco in the middle of the 70s”.

Presumably the thinking was that if you see a rat, rats will be on your mind, and if you then see the word ‘rats’ printed on a record you will immediately be compelled to play it. But then came the reality: “On Monday morning there was this dump on the desk of a 1000 DJs and it was a rat in formaldehyde in plastic”.

“So, that was basically the end of The Boomtown Rats in America”, he noted.

He’s not wrong, either. Even ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ only went to number 73 in the US, despite topping the charts everywhere else.

Turns out promotional gimmicks based on a literal interpretation of a band’s name don’t always work. Though at least they didn’t blow up a town.