Why "Farmer" Works

For me the Dodge Ram commercial, “Farmer”, walked away with the best spot of the Superbowl commercial competition. From its first frame through its last, it struck a chord that resonated with many viewers, and provides those of us in branding a number of good lessons. Here’s my deconstruction of what made it such effective work:

1. Intention
The poem was written by the late Paul Harvey for a speech he delivered to a Future Farmers of America convention in 1978. In it, he imagines farmers being God’s creation on the 8th day of the world–delivered to tend to all he had made.

There’s something nearly palatable about work that is inspired by noble intentions–it connects to parts of our humanity that lesser intentions fail to touch. In its sincerity, as a genuine expression of Mr. Harvey’s feelings for people, for their labor,  their sacrifice, and their commitment, he spoke to deep currents that course through our consciousness, and in doing so connected with us at a level that transcended our superficial consumer interests.

2. Simplicity
When cooking, if a chef has exquisite ingredients, the best advice is to let them sing–unburdened by unnecessary complexity and accoutrements. “Farmers” was arresting because of the artfully restrained preparation of its elements, and within the context of the multi-million dollar “all heat/no light” budgeted commercials that surrounded it, it achieved a distinctive presence during the evening.

By marrying Harvey’s sincerely delivered voice-over of his heartfelt poem with a collection of well-curated and beautifully shot still images, the commercial enabled the viewer to become absorbed with the words and photographs, and their slow and deliberate pacing provided excellent contrast to the flashy kinetic energy of the other spots that aired during the game.

3. Subtlety
Every viewer knows Superbowl commercials are very expensive, and the stakes for “winning” very high, with the winner being the brand whose name is most mentioned during and after the game. Toward that end, most commercials work very hard to overtly place their name and products so that their ownership of the commercial is clearly and memorably established.

In this light, the subtlety and naturalness of product placement of Dodge trucks, and the restrained use of brand name, only using it to punctuate the end of the spot, kept viewers fully invested in answering the question “whose commercial is this?” for its entire duration–a much more effective creative strategy than peppering the product and name with obvious placements throughout.

4. Courage

When’s the last time a national consumer brand used the word “God”  nine times in its voice-over in a national spot, never mind a spot on the biggest commercial stage of the year? I can’t think of a single one.

In its unabashed religiosity, it struck a (curiously) radical tone by fearlessly treading into what most brands would consider a minefield, and in doing so with such aplomb, further seared it into the audience’s consciousness.

For these and many other reasons, The Richards Group, who created it,  and Dodge, who had the wisdom to air it, prospered.
Because they were bold.

Rick Julian

3 Comments

  1. Sean McGrath on February 15, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Well said. In an environment where most go for entertainment pyrotechnics, this “work” of advertising chose the poignance of a quiet delivery. It was genuinely engaging which to me is the highest praise. Once again, simple bold choices win the day.

  2. Paul Zink on February 17, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    It was indeed a wonderfully done commercial, a satisfying pleasure to watch, with a beautiful cadence to the language and the visuals. Will it produce measurable value for the Dodge brand —and eventually increased sales of Dodge trucks —proportionate to the expense? That’s anyone’s guess at this point.

  3. Roy Tuck on February 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Sorry to disagree.
    While a beautifully written tribute to farmers and visually stunning, to me, it’s still cheap borrowed interest. I have as hard a time with selling Dodge with religion as I do with selling Jeep with patriotism.

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