Super Bowl “Farmers” Ad: Heartfelt and Misleading

I grew up in a small town, population 15000 if you counted every cow in the valley. Every morning I’d hear my dad walk in the kitchen, pour his first cup of coffee and turn on the radio. Paul Harvey’s voice wafted into my bedroom regularly, and along with that smell of fresh brewed Folgers, became a thread in the fabric of my childhood. I didn’t know anything about Paul Harvey’s politics, but I loved the way he owned a pregnant pause.

On Sunday, Harvey’s voice was featured on a Super Bowl ad for Dodge Ram trucks featuring imagery of farmers. The audio was condensed from a 1978 speech Harvey made to the Future Farmers of America. I grew up in a rural town, my dad was born on a farm, and he and my mom opened a buffalo ranch when he retired from his career as a university professor. About the time my parents returned to a life on the land, I started working for FoodHub, a project of the nonprofit Ecotrust, which is a platform dedicated to connecting small and medium farmers with chefs, schools and other wholesale food buyers in their area. As a food system reformer and marketing professional, I had a visceral reaction to the ad. 

What was a revelation to me about the farmer spot was that in memorializing and purporting to celebrate farm families and their way of life, the ad highlighted the fact that they’re gone. We all know the short version of that history: Earl Butz said get big or get out, and they did. And during that painful transition, rural America emptied out into the cities, giant companies took control of the inputs to, infrastructure surrounding and distribution of farm products, and we made a massive cultural shift toward suburbanization and all that goes with it.

I think hearing Paul Harvey’s voice and seeing pictures of those incredible farmers and their families struck a chord because I recognized their loss as a milestone in the hollowing out of our society. Where now are the men who are strong enough to plow a field straight, have the integrity to not cut corners, and are gentle enough to splint a bird’s leg? They aren’t carrying a “murse” and pulling cappuccinos in the city, that’s for sure. Nor are there many of them in public office. And they’re certainly not wrapping themselves in the flag and listening to Rush Limbaugh. They, and the ideals being exploited by Dodge, have largely been emasculated or made obsolete.

The Dodge ad, and the “Year of the Farmer” campaign that goes with it, glosses over the realities of how food gets produced in this country in exactly the same way that past Super Bowl ads have “celebrated” military families by waving the flag and tugging at our collective heartstrings, even as they gloss over the real pain and effects of war-making. Although they aren’t likely to buy brand spanking new pickup trucks, most of the people who work the farms that feed the agro-industrial food system today are not Caucasian, they’re usually not even American. And much of the food produced and marketed in the current system is making us fat and sick. Effective as propaganda, the campaign mischaracterizes modern agriculture and ignores what consolidation has wrought.

That commercial wasn’t really about trucks or farmers. I believe the reason the ad was so compelling is that as a society we miss the human connection that came from doing physical work side by side, and then sitting together at dinner, feeling exhausted and productive. Paul Harvey’s voice, and the faces of those beautiful human beings meant to represent integrity and hard work, evoked that for me. Forging a food system that nurtures our communities, creates opportunity and pride of ownership for family farmers, and returns integrity and honor for all contributors to the system could lead us back to local and rural prosperity, better health and closer human bonds. I challenge Dodge to use “The Year of the Farmer” to help create that future.

 

16 thoughts on “Super Bowl “Farmers” Ad: Heartfelt and Misleading

  1. I would like to passionately disagree with your statement, “Where now are the men who are strong enough to plow a field straight, have the integrity to not cut corners, and are gentle enough to splint a bird’s leg?”
    I know where they are… still on the farm. As a produce farmer growing a diverse crop for our 250 CSA members, three Farm to School programs, and whole sale markets I see those men everyday… my Dad and brother.
    I too work for a non-profit out of Washington, DC but live on the farm. Living on the farm, next door to these “horrible farmers of today’s Ag” I know that it is still the family farmer growing our food. The system, the government policies, the regulations and the corporations are forcing our farmers more and more to consolidate and farm with more GMO’s in the race to higher yields but I do not villainize the farmer… ever. My community and my farm neighbors and family are not obsolete. Instead I heard that commercial and still see my family sitting around a table each Saturday after our farmers market and still driving the 5 miles to end our week at church (the final line of the speech that was cut for PR reasons). You last paragraph said exactly what the ad represented. And it did make American’s long for that connection and I had more people text me, call me, and reach out to me saying they thought of my family. We had so many CSA customers say that commercial made them proud they could support farms. So why not take the ad for what it was a truck commercial and know it was powerful and it got people talking about farming. I thought it was beautiful and I still see those faces everyday. Just last week when my truck got stuck in a ditch in the snow and I saw there wondering what I would do and over the hill came the Van Vossens on their John Deere. They saw me go in while milking their 400 Holsteins in the early afternoon. After they got me out I took them a pie and asked how the grandkids were doing in their 4-H projects. It still exists. We are not obsolete. We are still here… still standing strong.

  2. I too objected to farmers being used as a white boys sales pitch and essentially agree with your words, but they also show me that you don’t know many farmers.

  3. Because of his distinctive voice and unique broadcast style, Paul Harvey was the best commentator ever. For decades we listened to his daily “news” reports even as we knew that most of his radio time was spent selling products and spinning current events in the most conservative interpretation possible. So, it seems entirely consistent that the marketers at Dodge would enlist the master communicator to hock their wares.
    Paul Harvey’s sentiments still resonate after 35 years either because people think farms still work that way, or because some people feel that the marketers are deflecting attention from the unsustainable commodity-based agribusiness model that provides us plenty of cheap but unwholesome food.
    Amanda and others work to reestablish a direct connection between the farmer and the consumer. They aren’t being sentimental and they don’t diminish the hard work of current farmers. They recognize the value of farmers’ markets and CSAs but believe bigger ideas will be necessary to increase the positive economic and environmental roles of small farms in America.
    The Dodge “Eighth Day” commercial has caused many of us to give the topic some thought. Maybe one day a new Paul Harvey will tell “The Rest of the Story” with an outcome that will be appreciated by all coming generations. If so, we have a lot of work to do.

  4. It’s a good commercial, it is touching and much better than selling sex to our children. According to many marketing experts most people did not not even know it is about a Dodge and that may have or not have been the intent. It was nice to see a commercial that was of good character in my opinion. I watched it brings tears to some tough men eyes. It touched a lot of people. I find it a little disheartening the someone can’t even post a wholesome commercial that they like without getting a negative comment because it mentioned God or family or prayer. The commercial was special to some because they could relate to it, and it reminded them of their own family and friends. FYI. Census of Agriculture, the vast majority of farms in this country (90%) are owned and operated by individuals or families. If we really want to change corporate farms and The GMO Monsanto control then support your local farmer and work against Monsanto and vote anyone that supports them out of office. It will not change a single thing by criticizing a commercial other than maybe make ourselves feel a little better. Our town if full of real farmers who care and are battling with Monsanto. Instead of criticizing a commercial how about you take time to write about supporting your local farmers and CSA and fight against the abuse of Monsanto. But I guess you can write an easy article about how bad a commercial is instead of doing something of real value. Let praise the selling of sex and criticize a wholesome commercial. Good for us!

  5. Bryn, I want to thank you for your comment — your comment here touched me more than the commercial itself.

  6. The ad clearly ended with the statement….To the farmer in all of us…..Somebody has always got to spin on something beautiful to try to ruin it for all of us…not so this time sister…..The ad was awesome and correct……so just put down your poison pen and check out your cold cold heart……..

  7. Bryn…..I respected what you had to say, totally. The poor guy who wrote the article must NOT be an American. Where, oh where would we be without our farmers?!! I salute you all!!!!

  8. Amanda, I appreciate the background you gave us on Paul Harvey’s saying those words.
    As I’m 65 and grew up in the South (but not on a farm), I heard hundreds of Paul Harvey’s news reports and “The Rest of the Story” until he died. I remember him very fondly.
    When I heard his voice over the first photo, my heart opened up in joy and relief as it gave me a break from the stunningly expensive, modern ads that were being aired on the #1 TV advertising venue.
    When Paul Harvey’s voice came on near the end of the Super Bowl, an amazing thing happened at the annual Super Bowl party I attend, the room went silent for the first and only time and stayed silent until the ad was over.
    I agree completely with Bryn’s comment.
    I’ve spent over 17 years working to revive local healthy food.
    Yes, the ad was incomplete. Why? Because it was an ad to sell large, expensive trucks so it was focused on the group that usually buys those kinds of trucks! Did Dodge stub its toes by including white guys? I believe it did, yet, that exclusion has that led to discussions among people I know.
    How many other things have you seen on TV lately that said anything nice about farmers?
    Unfortunately, too much of the time, our movement demonizes farmers who choose to farm differently from the way that we do. And, when something praising farmers comes along, we say, “Yes…but.”
    I urge you to reconsider your own response in this case.

  9. Pingback: A farmer, a banker, and a factory farmer walk into a Superbowl commercial… | The Bovine

  10. Pingback: The Local Beet: Chicago » See What You Can Do with This Week’s Harvest of Eat Local Links

  11. Pingback: The Great Farmer Debate of Super Bowl 2013 | My American Myth

  12. There is so much nostalgia in that Dodge commercial that yes, it could be argued that it was indeed misleading and that we have lost connections to the land in one way or another. The response has been huge, so huge that it can be a way for those at the vanguard of this next food revolution to point to and use the emotionality generated by this car commercial as teachable moments. This piece points out the generally close description of the current state of food production in our country and how it really isn’t as depicted in the commercial. We need to use this to get the attention of this country and make them understand that there must be a change undertaken to secure our future food.

  13. According to dh the trucks themselves are built by latinos-in Mexico. Bring the jobs back so people can afford to buy local produce.