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God made a farmer, Dodge made a great commercial about him. Or did it?

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In a seven day week, day eight would bring us back around to Sunday. On this particular eighth day, God made a farmer and Dodge made a winning two minute ad. America said it was good.
Those 108 million viewers who said it was the “most creative” may have been duped six ways to Super Bowl Sunday, but it depends on who you ask.
Dodge’s now-famous “Farmer” spot was two minutes of beautiful stills and slow-motion video shots of American farmers overlaid with Paul Harvey’s speech at the 1978 National Future Farmers of American Convention. The imagery is beautiful. The words are poetic. One minute and a half in, the audience is ready to love – maybe even buy – whatever product is about to be unveiled. Then, there it is: Dodge Ram. “To the farmer in all of us.”
Apparently, a lot of us have soil running in our veins. My Twitter feed blew up with love for the spot. Some criticism, too, such as my friend Derek Poore, who said “FarmVille is really trying.” Comedian and writer, Mike Drucker, said, “Farmers do things. Feel like you do things by buying something unrelated.” But for every negative response there must have been 100 people, many of which had would never pay attention to a pickup truck spot, giving their love and new-found loyalty to Dodge.
Did America love the product, or the story? Ask any advertising expert, and they’ll tell you they loved the story, which is what made it brilliant. Dodge made their product a part of the story. They tied their pickup truck to the romanticism of the idea behind hard work and doing what’s right.
A few days later, maybe the 10th day at this point, I stumbled onto a blog post from friend, mentor and brilliant Kentucky photojournalist, David Stephenson, about “Farmer.” David was one of the first to point out that this ad was a carbon copy of a YouTube video put together by in the summer of 2011. While David found the new spot inspiring because it showed the strength of still images, I found it surprising that this commercial was not original work.
This is the Super Bowl. Every second of space is worth more than $126,000. Every year we expect the elites of the industry to show up and wow us with their creativity, but the public’s favorite spot was a polished version of a YouTube video?
I’m not sure what to make of that, but I’ll try:

  • Maybe we should applaud Dodge and The Richards Group for their ROI here. They kept production costs lower by using a 40-year-old voice recording, still imagery, basic video with no CGI and a pretty simple website layout. Of course, at two minutes long, the ad slot still costs them 15 million at the 3.8 million per 30 seconds rate. New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott said in a Tweet that advertisers likely get discounts on buys that long.
  • Dodge has a link to on its website for the spot, but I cannot find any mention of the fact that this idea was not original. It seems as though Dodge and The Richards Group offered a link shares and donations in exchange for re-purposing their video. Dodge is donating money to the Future Farmers of America, up to one million dollars, for each share the video gets. If that’s not the case, please comment and explain, but all research has led me to that conclusion, and I am not alone. AdLand points out that is saying it’s not a copy. I’m sure a million dollars has nothing to do with that.
  • One of my biggest questions is, if this is literally the Super Bowl of advertising, and the top ad was a reproduction of a consumer-made YouTube video, what does that say about the profession? Is this a lazy effort? I’m reminded of the movie “Elf” where the two top writers have the idea to bring in Miles Finch, another writer, to do their job. Should The Richards Group be commended for even thinking to repurpose this ad for themselves?  They are taking some heat, but it has been very minimal. I did find one writer who was pretty fired up about Dodge’s lack of acknowledgement to current farming conditions. That issue is not Dodge’s responsibility or problem, in my opinion.
  • One huge, and thus-far unmentioned difference in the video and the “Farmer” spot? Dodge completely omits the part of Harvey’s speech where he says that farmers come home hungry to lunch from their wives, who were busy entertaining friends. This was likely a wise move, as the message would have been lost upon many viewers upon what might be considered a sexist statement by today’s standards.

Was I moved by this ad? Of course. I grew up in Southeastern Kentucky and learned the value of hard work growing up. Many people had similar emotional connections. I’m sure most people will never know about the video, and remember the best ad this year came from Dodge.
I’m just saying, maybe it didn’t.

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Ed brings 15 years of traditional and digital media sales experience to the agency, giving us a perspective most agencies don’t have. When he’s not working or seeking new knowledge, Ed hangs out with his wife, two kids, two dogs, one cat, and a hamster. And yes, the cat and hamster are best friends.

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