Once a year, on that special Super Bowl Sunday, advertisers attempt to crush us with big feelings: big laughs, big shocks, big celebrity cameos, anything that really yanks the old heartstrings. This year the most powerful ads came from a Dallas-based branding agency aiming right for the heartland.
The Richards Group, whose clients include Chick Fil-A, Home Depot, Motel 6, and Dodge, premiered its new advertisement for the Dodge Ram pickup truck during the last half of the game February 3.
The ad features a succession of stark, iconic still images that glorify the nation’s most time-honored occupation, the farmer. To capture life on the American farm, Dodge commissioned ten photographers including National Geographic‘s William Albert Allard and documentary photographer Kurt Markus, among others. The weathered hands and faces of old farm hands, horse haunches, and idle tractors are interwoven with shots of a tough truck loaded down with hay bails or surrounded by pre-feedlot cattle.
The striking photographs fade into one another atop lofty narration–a recorded address by the late, famed radio broadcaster Paul Harvey. Harvey delivered his speech, “So God Made A Farmer,” to a convention of the Future Farmers of America (National FFA Organization) in 1978, David Haglund wrote for Slate. Harvey’s words take a biblical tone to honor the values that are wound into the fabric of the American farmer. Selflessness and sense of community, long hours and tireless tenacity, and a tenderness for all of God’s creatures are all put to tear-jerking effect. The winsome traditionalism on display is on par with the Richards Group’s past work.
In November 1990, Texas Monthly ran an article by Skip Hollandsworth about the Richards Group, where the company’s founder, Stan Richards, describes his company’s style. “If there’s one word that I want to describe our advertising, it’s ‘endearing,’” said Richards. “My rule is that everything that comes out of this agency must make people feel warm and affectionate toward our client.”
The commercial has an undeniable populist sentimentality; however, the concept did not seem entirely fresh to Haglund. The inspiration for the ad was taken from a video released in 2011 by Farms.com, which contained the same Harvey speech delivered in tandem with still images of American farms and the people that work the land. The initial video was not necessarily obscure (it reached 1 million plays on Youtube).
Haglund points out the only real difference between the two is the production value of the photographs–and the sales pitch for the Dodge Ram, of course. Slate later amended the story to note that Farms.com is working with the Chrysler Group, parent company to Dodge, to raise money for the FFA.
Jodi Phillip, Brand Public Relations coordinator at The Richards Group, could not speak about the commercial, noting that the Chrysler Group is exclusively commenting on the campaign. Texas Monthly spoke with Eileen Wunderlich, Financial Communications manager at The Chrysler Group, to sort out the lineage of this concept.
It all started from Harvey’s stirring oration, according to Wunderlich. “Farm families have embraced [Harvey’s speech] as a national anthem,” she said. Apparently savvy farmers have used the speech as the backdrop for farm-themed internet videos for years, Wunderlich said. The existing grassroots popularity of the 1978 address spurred Chrysler to obtain permission from the Harvey estate to use it as part of its “Year of the Farmer” campaign.
The campaign is a partnership between the Ram brand, Farms.com, and agricultural equipment manufacturer Case IH, which is aimed at raising $1 million for hunger relief efforts in communities across America. The video that aired on Farms.com in 2011 was the first incarnation of what would eventually become Ram’s Super Bowl spot. For every view, download, or share of the “Farmer” ad located on the brand’s website, Ram will make a donation to the National FFA Organization. The donations will reportedly be used by local FFA chapters to fund student programs aimed at fighting hunger.