The Farmer Bowl
By Jennifer M. Latzke
Since the dawn of marketing, when companies wanted to associate their brand with catch words like dependability, wholesomeness, ruggedness, or machismo, they turned to the tried and true image of agriculture. Farmers and other stock agricultural images have been used as shills for cigarettes, lawn tractors, trucks, construction machinery, pizza and fast food, beer, insurance and little blue pills, among others.
What do you see when you hear "like a rock" but a Chevrolet pickup parked by a barbed-wire fence while a rugged cowboy splices wire? When Dominos and McDonald's wanted to rebrand themselves as wholesome with natural ingredients, they featured farmers who grow tomatoes and potatoes. When Pfizer wants a man to feel manlier about their pills, they show a cowboy.
Good grief, he's long dead and the product he pushed causes cancer, but for many people here and abroad the Marlboro Man is still a rugged icon of Americana.
Advertising is about sharing a message in 30-second to 2-minute sound bites and flashing images. When it's done right, the viewer knows what the product is, has a feel for the brand imaging of the company, and is motivated to fork over his cash.
That's it. It's not meant to inspire anything other than a consumer paying for a product. Maybe, if you're really lucky, and the ad airs before a huge audience--of say Super Bowl proportions--you'll get added social media chatter. If it's funny or poignant, you might see some added brand loyalty.
Now, during last Sunday's Super Bowl, when ad time went for $4 million for 30 seconds and advertisers were previewing their commercials for two weeks on YouTube like movie premiers, agriculture had more than its fair share of airplay.
Yes, there was the Dodge Ram commercial, and we'll get to that. But did you notice ag had a role in others?
There was the No. 1 ad of the night, Anheuser-Busch's "Brotherhood"--a one-minute heart-tugging display of the bond between a breeder and a horse. Who didn't get choked up at the reunion of this proud Clydesdale with the man who raised him from a foal?
And did you go online to help vote for the name of the foal featured in the ad? According to A-B, more than 60,000 tweets, Facebook comments and messages helped come up with the name of "Hope" for the 3-week-old star. I don't know about you, but I feel sort of cuddly toward the beverage giant now.
This was the first year the Milk Processor Education Program, the folks that gave us "got milk?" had a Super Bowl commercial to promote arguably the most recognized farm product on the market--milk. They spent millions on a full-scale production that rivals an action movie, and even got Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson--the definition of an action hero--to play a dad who chooses getting milk for his little girls' cereal over saving the world from one disaster after another.
For my money, if milk can do THAT body good, I'm sure going to drink it. And, I'm going to associate dairy products and dairy farmers with building strong healthy muscles.
But both of those ads were selling you products.
Which is why so much attention has been heaped on Chrysler for its Dodge Ram "So God Made a Farmer" commercial.
At $8 million per minute, and at roughly two minutes of airtime total, Chrysler laid out about $16 million during the singularly most watched televised sporting event of the year to sell an intangible. Something they've done for the past two years.
They did not blast viewers with dazzling images of its product pulling some over-loaded trailer through mud set to rock music. You didn't see a Dodge truck but roughly four times in its whole ad. At the end, there was no talk about financing and purchasing a Dodge Ram. No dealer tag line.
Instead it was a simple poem, read by Paul Harvey, the voice of rural America we all grew up with speaking to us over the lunch hour. It was two minutes of touching photos of farm life from around the country. And, when it was over, Dodge didn't try to do anything more than encourage viewers to visit a website where they've declared 2013 The Year of The Farmer. And with every view of the ad, the company--and its campaign partners like Case IH--would donate up to $1 million to FFA educational activities.
Now, you can nitpick until the day is done about the subliminal messaging of the Dodge Ram commercial during this year's Super Bowl. You can holler about what you perceive as less than true representation of modern agriculture; Paul Harvey's politics; or the misguided use of $16 million by a company that received bailout money from the government.
But here's my takeaway from Sunday's ad blitz.
I, and the majority of my social media connections, see it as giving farmers their due for years of unpaid cameos to sell products for companies. And, by recognizing FFA and farmers in front of roughly 108.4 million viewers, plus another estimated 402,000 comments over Twitter and Facebook, Dodge brought the average consumer to a conversation about ag education and the future of farming.
I'd say it was money well invested.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.