The Egyptian Sun God Ra Shines as a Pitchman for SolarCity

Trippy ads from Arnold spark interest

Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun god, returns to illuminate mortals about SolarCity's alternative energy solutions in a warped new commercial from Arnold Worldwide.

Here, the falcon-faced deity with six-pack abs powers a pair of reading lamps while a husband and wife kick back in bed and peruse their energy bill. The humans are pleased that they've cut costs thanks to SolarCity. As they laugh, Ra squawks maniacally.

The self-consciously wacky campaign debuted this spring with a couple of ads that combined for more than 30 million YouTube views. (Did they juice those numbers, or does Ra have an especially strong cult following?) In one spot, while vacuuming the living room, the divine one is tempted to ditch his diet and snack on some fish swimming in a tank. In another, he artfully trims some front-yard hedges into pyramid shapes. "Power forever" is the suitably epic tagline. The new spot, "Reading Lamps," will soon appear across SolarCity's digital channels. Social, display and radio ads round out the campaign.

"Ra allows us to quickly convey that you could be putting the infinite power of the sun to work for you," said SolarCity CMO Jonathan Beamer. "We played with other ways to personify the sun but couldn't beat a bird-headed sun god as a visual. We know we have to earn attention, and this is simply not something you see every day."

Even if viewers don't immediately comprehend this otherworldly metaphor for harnessing solar energy, the trippy content is immensely engaging, and it appears to have brightened SolarCity's fortunes considerably. The company, chaired by uberentrepreneur Elon Musk, reports adding 44,900 customers in the second quarter, a 61 percent increase from Q1, before the "At Home With Ra" campaign first lit up screens across the nation.

Ra's earthly appearance isn't the only recent innovative campaign touting alternative energy. NRG just produced a hidden-camera video with Droga5 that shows consumers mulling alternatives to fossil fuels.

Beamer believes SolarCity's campaign has wings—er, legs—and will charge along for quite a while. "Ra can continue to help tell the story that there is a better way to power your home," he said. "Our product doesn't cost anything up front and lowers your bills. That's really all that we have to convey to get people to take the next step. And Ra can do that in as many different ways as there are things to plug into the wall."

Were there worries that creating a humorous campaign centered around a religious icon—even one whose popularity blazed brightest around 2400 B.C. and whose profile is fairly dim these days—might cause some consternation?

"We knew there was some risk, but we also know that you have to push boundaries a bit to break through," Beamer says. "Most people understand that we are celebrating the power of the sun, not offending anyone of any religious belief."

Beyond such concerns, the unconventional nature of the deity's costume created some challenges on the set.

"The Ra head actually has a little digital monitor inside it, attached to a tiny camera in the forehead, and that's the only way the talent could see anything while wearing it," said Arnold executive vice president and group creative director Sean McBride. This setup "messed with his depth perception like crazy, so we had a giant half man/half bird banging into lights and PAs all day."


Client: SolarCity

Chief Marketing Officer: Jonathan Beamer

Agency: Arnold Worldwide

Chief Creative Officer: Jim Elliott

Executive Creative Director: Pete Johnson and Wade Devers

Group Creative Director: Sean McBride

ACD / Art Director: Nate Donabed

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