DES MOINES, Iowa — Beyonce didn’t sing about the soil and Bar Refaeli kissed a tech geek rather than a farmer in her commercial, but it was Iowa agriculture that felt a warm afterglow the Monday after the Super Bowl.
One of the most-viewed commercials turned out to be Dodge Ram’s tribute to agriculture, with a voice-over from the grave by the late radio legend Paul Harvey, who exclaimed “So On The Eighth Day God Created a Farmer.”
The ad depicted farmers as every bit the hardworking, devout, sensitive people loyal to family and community they have been stereotyped.
Even if some of the images were outdated in an age of big, high-tech farms, Iowa’s officials and farmers could hardly contain their joy over a gushingly positive portrayal before an estimated 108.4 million television viewers. By late afternoon Monday, the ad had also collected 4.6 million YouTube viewings.
“I thought it was a great ad,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday. “It was a wonderful tribute to farmers and to agriculture and the work ethic that you gain growing up on the farm. I thought it was one of the best ads that aired during the Super Bowl.”
The president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Craig Hill, watched the commercial with a group of Iowa Farm Bureau county leaders at a meeting in Phoenix.
Hill admitted the televised spot “left me teary-eyed.”
“I have a son in my operation, and when they mentioned about the son wanting to follow his dad into the business, it was very close to me,” said Hill, who grows grain and raises hogs in Warren County, Iowa.
Not everybody was charmed by the ad.
David Goodner, an organiser for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, wasn’t happy that the commercial ended with a picture of a Dodge Ram sitting in front of a confinement facility.
The group and others have fought against the spread of hog confinements and their impact on small farmers, communities and the environment.
Goodner said the ad was “pandering to a stereotype,” and said the setting in front of the confinement “left a bad taste in my mouth.”
The Dodge Ram ad finished third in USA TODAY’s likability Ad Meter, behind the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale colt commercial and the Tide “Miracle Stain” spot.
GoDaddy’s ad with Refaeli finished last.
The two-minute ad from Dodge Ram featured the voice of the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey speaking over dozens of documentary-style photos showing the hard work and challenges facing farmers and ranchers each day.
“And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer,” Harvey said as the ad began.
“God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the field, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.’ So God made a farmer.”
The Harvey monologue was originally given to the Future Farmers of America (now FFA) convention in 1978. Harvey, who died in 2009, was a longtime radio favourite in the Midwest.
Criticisms of the commercial were mild.
Des Moines advertising executive Denise Essman said: “I thought the ad was a wonderful portrayal of agriculture. But I wondered, what product was being sold?”
Dodge’s ad was similar to other advertisements from agribusiness companies such as DuPont Pioneer, Deere& Co., Cargill and Monsanto, which have used feel-good ads as a double-shot to promote both agriculture and their own standing with farmers.
In addition to raising awareness of the Dodge Ram and farmers, the ad will benefit the Indianapolis-based National FFA organisation, which is getting a donation for each download or share of the ad. The ad is now on YouTube and the Ram Truck site.
The intention is to raise $1 million for the FFA, according to the online farm magazine Agri-Pulse.
Agriculture has become defensive in part because of its dwindling numbers.
About 2 per cent of Americans farm today, versus 25 per cent 75 years ago.
Last month, Tom Vilsack, secretary of the Department of Agriculture, pointed to the failure of Congress to pass a new farm bill as evidence that rural America was in danger of becoming politically irrelevant.
“Some of my speeches through this next year will be to help reiterate the importance of rural America to the rest of the country, and I plan to carry this message to audiences who normally wouldn’t understand or appreciate rural America,” Vilsack said in a statement Monday.
“This ad was a good example of how we can inspire new audiences with a proactive message about the significant contributions of rural America,” he said.
Agriculture has also faced criticism from environmentalists, nutrition and animal welfare activists, biofuels critics and congressional budget-cutters.
“There’s been enough criticism of agriculture,” Hill said. “Various groups, for whatever reasons, have attacked agriculture. The ad supported the true image of farmers, and it brings us comfort.”
To Bob Dougherty, a grain farmer in Shelby County, Ind., the ode to farmers was a welcome interruption to the flash and laughter that characterises most Super Bowl ads.
And although he drives a General Motors truck, Dougherty appreciated that the ad showed respect for the life of farmers.
“It’s not an 8 to 5 job. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, especially when you have livestock. It’s a lifestyle, it’s not a job. A lot of people don’t realise that.”
(Contributing: Christopher Doering, Gannett Washington Bureau, and Robert King, The Indianapolis Star.)
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