Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ad Nauseum

The experts are wrong again.

Apparently they’re ranking what’s being referred to as the “Dodge Ram-Farmer” commercial as among the best that aired during last Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII.

A group of Michigan State University advertising professors, USA Today poll respondents, and professionals at Hanon McKendry & Mindscape (an advertising firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that’s been judging Super Bowl ads for a decade) all insist that the cloying tribute to The American Farmer was among the most effective.

I don’t agree.

It's not easy to see a connection between late conservative radio commentator Paul Harvey – whose 1978 speech entitled, “So God Made a Farmer” was used in the commercial – and Motor Trend magazine’s 2013 Truck of the Year. And I wasn't aware that the Almighty and American farmers unanimously prefer the Ram 1500 to other full-size pickup trucks on the market.

Harvey, to whom I listened when I was young and na├»ve, first delivered the speech at a Future Farmers of America convention during the Carter Presidency. He didn't even write it; it famously appeared in his mailbox anonymously and he was unable to determine the author. Whoever actually drafted the speech apparently had the inside track on knowing the Heavenly Father’s motivation when populating this country’s agricultural community:

And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a caretaker." So God made a farmer.

God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board." So God made a farmer.

"I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife's done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon – and mean it." So God made a farmer.

God said, "I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.' I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain'n from 'tractor back,' put in another seventy-two hours." So God made a farmer.

God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor's place. So God made a farmer.

God said, "I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week's work with a five-mile drive to church.

"Somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life 'doing what dad does.'" So God made a farmer.

The commercial features Harvey reciting these words while we’re treated to images of a wind-whipped prairie church, barns, fields, farms, Old Glory, mostly white male farmers, tractors, corn, chicks, hay, a white family saying grace at the dinner table, just one African-American farmer, just one woman, a little white girl and some black pickup trucks. (See “The Whitewashing of the American Farmer: Dodge Ram Super Bowl Ad Edition”.) It closes with this tag line: “To the farmer in all of us.”

I didn't know there were farmers in city folks like me. I've never operated a CAFO, shoed a horse, splinted a meadow lark’s leg, tamed cantankerous machinery or shaped an ax handle from a persimmon sprout in my life and I’m not even sure what “pain’n” means.

Harvey, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Dubya in 2005 and died in February of 2009, was pals with dress-wearing former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover – he was known to send his radio scripts to Hoover for approval – and Communist-hating, blacklisting Senator Joe McCarthy. This appeared in the New York Times shortly after Harvey’s death:

He railed against welfare cheats and defended the death penalty. He worried about the national debt, big government, bureaucrats who lacked common sense, permissive parents, leftist radicals and America succumbing to moral decay. He championed rugged individualism, love of God and country, and the fundamental decency of ordinary people.

I worry about the national debt and our moral decay too (which is why I frequently rail against Republicans at this blog). Why don't I have 27 million fans like Harvey did at his peak?

I thought ad agencies wanted to appeal to the broadest segment of consumers or at least to as many demographic groups as possible. I wouldn't rule out purchasing a pickup but I sure couldn't relate to this commercial – not to Harvey, the trite imagery (even Norman Rockwell would, if shown this commercial, deem it cheesy) or the multiple references to He Who Floats on Clouds and Awards Grammys and Touchdowns. (It seems risky to hit the religion thing so hard, too, since one-fifth of the U.S. public, and a third of adults under 30, are religiously unaffiliated according to the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life – the highest percentages ever in Pew polling.)

I won’t be writing $40,000 checks to Chrysler or adding advertising professors to my circle of friends and associates anytime soon.

Sources: www.MLive.com, www.theatlantic.com, The Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life, New York Times, Detroit Free Press.

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