Many people watch the game anxiously awaiting to see which team is named National Football League (NFL) Champion (note: I generally watch for the ads and half-time show). While the Super Bowl is known as the ultimate competition for American sports, the American Marketing Association describes the Super Bowl as "the ultimate competition for marketers."
When watching the Super Bowl this year as a law student studying rural people and places, I could not help but reminisce about Ram Trucks' famous 2013 Super Bowl ad, titled "Farmer." The ad, which aired on February 3, 2013 during Super Bowl XLVII, featured a recording of Paul Harvey's speech "So God Made a Farmer."
Harvey worked as a American radio broadcaster for ABC Radio Networks for 51 years, and he was known for his segment "The Rest of the Story." Harvey, who was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was often referred to as "the voice of Middle America" and "the voice of the Silent Majority" by the media for his "flag-waving conservatism." According to Bruce DuMont, president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Harvey turned down multiple offers to broadcast on the East Coast so he could “stay in touch with his listeners and the American people.”
Harvey delivered his speech at a 1978 Future Farmers of America (FFA) convention. The speech acts as an extension of the Genesis creation narrative, referring to God's actions on the 8th day of creation. In his speech, Harvey described the characteristics of a farmer in each phrase, ending them with the recurring "So God Made a Farmer." See Harvey's entire speech here.
The Ram commercial began with a stark photograph of a single cow in front of a snowy field and Harvey’s voice saying, “And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, I need a caretaker. So God made a farmer.” The ad depicted a simple slideshow of rural photographs, featuring imagery including a black and white chapel in an empty field, aged and rugged farmers with split fingernails and tired faces, rustic farm houses with American flags, farmers working the land, livestock, views of virtually endless crop fields, generations of rural people, and a family praying around the dinner table.
One of the photographers that contributed to the images featured in the add, Andy Anderson, reflected on his involvement:
A transcendent project unlike any that I have worked on. 10 photographers capturing on there own terms the life of a farmer and rancher. All of us searching for meaningful images. Not any one photo rising above any others, but collectively voicing a message for folks and a vocation we have all really taken for granted. The last truly archetypical American worker. And who better else to match the images with than Paul Harvey…America’s grandfather.The ad debuted during the 2013 Super Bowl in conjunction with Ram's "Year of the Farmer," which focused on praising the hardworking men and women who feed and clothe the nation and world.
According to NPR, the ad was part of Ram's partnership with the National FFA Organization (formerly the Future Farmers of America) aimed at "highlighting and underscoring the importance of farmers in America." Ram announced that it would donate $1 million to the National FFA Organization if it received 10 million views of the commercial on its website. The ad surpassed 10 million views in less than a week, and Ram presented the $1 million donation to Clay Sapp, the then National FAA president.
While the ad was praised as one of 2013's best Super Bowl ads for its gorgeous still images and focus on the consumer over the product, the ad was not without criticism. One critic, Rachel Lauden, stated:
This criticism implies that the ad portrays farmers in a way compatible with the stereotypes of rural America and farmers, without giving credit to technological advances and modern realities in the agriculture business. Other negative feedback focused on the fact that the video featured predominately white farmers, thus failing to paint an accurate picture of the diversity of famers in America.The last farmer in the video is driving what appears to be a 9R John Deere tractor. That comes in at about $250,000-380,000. If his land is good quality. . . it’s likely to be about $5000 an acre. If he has a dairy, the family has been using artificial insemination for at least fifty years. . . . He uses computer software to manage the farm. He has a global positioning system to help him manage crops. . . . He’s a business man. He has to stay on top of the market. . . . if we continue to accept the kind of images promoted by this ad, images of the farmer as a good hearted chap, working with the technology of the late 1930s, and thus not frightfully smart, how are we ever going to get a sensible grip on agriculture?
While Ram's visual portrayal of the farmer may not constitute a completely accurate depiction of rural America, the ad successfully brought attention to a large population of Americans on a national stage.