So God Made A Whiner

Last year, Chrysler won the Super Bowl with a powerful, head-turning spot that seemed to sneak up out of nowhere, as opposed to those prelaunched on social media. Created by Wieden & Kennedy, it featured a grizzled Clint Eastwood delivering a half-time pep talk for America, a message that, as it turned out, could have doubled as an ad for Obama’s reelection.

And perhaps the dawning awareness of the spot’s essential liberal-osity sent Clint over a cliff. So he in turn talked to a chair at the Republican convention.

In advertising, there’s always a pendulum swing.  My theory for this year is that Chrysler wanted to repeat the surprise, emotion, and beauty of the previous year’s Big Game successes, except this time without the messy excess leftyness. So it chose two agencies other than Wieden & Kennedy (GlobalHue for Jeep, The Richards Group for Dodge Ram) to deliver a more conservative view.

My colleague Bob Garfield had a pretty strong dislike for the Jeep work, but loved “So God Made a Farmer” for Dodge Ram pick-up trucks. But I  hated it. Granted, every still photo is incandescent, including the opener, featuring one black cow and so much snow in milky white space. The power of those images, combined with Paul Harvey’s old-timey radio voice on the scratchy soundtrack made it the one commercial that was literally a showstopper. (Aside from the blackout.)

But unlike my compadres who work as creatives in advertising, and worshipped the spot, I was put off from the moment the name “Paul Harvey” appeared on screen. The spot is exquisitely art-directed, so his name in black letters was delicately dropped on top of all that beautiful snowy white space as if this were a memorial to a great American poet, like Robert Frost.  (“Two roads diverged in a wood...”) Or a healer. Or ahem, a saint.

Much as his heroic voice is a powerful nostalgia-builder, Paul Harvey was a very divisive figure in his day. He was sort of a Glenn Beck for a pre-Fox Network time, a right-wing commentator whose rantings (full disclosure) my father turned off as soon as Harvey's voice came on the radio during family trips in the car. So I was predisposed to recoil on impact. (Not as much as my physical recoil from the GoDaddy kiss, but a more intellectual recoil, I guess.)

If Harvey were only a voiceover, his politics wouldn’t matter. But given the prime placement of his name, and use of a speech he presented in 1978 at a Future Farmers of America convention, the spot is totally imbued with Harveyitis.

I’m not the first to see a metaphorical whitewash coming out of all of that white space. Most people know that the farming industry has largely been taken over by Big Ag industrial farming corporations, and precious few family farms hold on. (And the smaller farms, reborn, are more likely to be pursuing greener pastures, like raising llamas or making artisanal cheeses.)

The Atlantic revealed that at present, more than 70% of U.S. farm workers are from Mexico or Central America  -- many of them here illegally. These people were not pictured.

Obviously,  no expense was spared by the agency in hiring top photographers to capture contemporary farmers. But they sure weren’t shooting in California. The ad seemed to want to capture the snow, and Marlboro-Cowboy-type rugged individuals who live in, say, Montana. (Indeed, the only person who could buy one of these expensive Dodge Ram trucks would be a gentleman farmer who uses his Montana property as a vacation home.)

Further, the cognitive dissonance I was feeling while listening perhaps has something to do with the fact that  this “poem” was not really written by Harvey. He “adapted” it from a 1975 article he wrote, which was loosely based on a 1940 definition of a dirt farmer published in a farming journal. The original included a bit about a farmer “strong enough to rustle a calf, yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild.”

The spot skipped the home delivery of the grandbaby, but kept in all the religiosity. There are shots of a Christian church, a family saying grace, and a farmer praying in a pew. (Not to mention that the whole speech is based on Creationism!) I found this offputting-- but I guess it’s meant to resonate with a few rich Christian white guys with spreads in the Midwest.

Another controversy about the spot -- which Slate's David Haglund was quick to point out -- was that the whole thing, voiceover and all, with much less sophisticated visuals, appeared previously on a Farms.com video on You Tube. It turns out that Chrysler is working with Farms. com and the Future Farmers, and pledging to raise $1 million to support the FFA in 2013. So I guess that partially ameliorates the redo.

While “So God Made A Farmer” is a lesson in reality that’s mostly a fantasy, still, it’s not a documentary, it’s an ad. And indeed, it’s the most dazzling array of photographs matched to text since “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” the book of iconic photos from Walker Evans and text from James Agee that chronicled poor white tenant farmers in Alabama during the Depression. This combination of interviews and imagery was so powerful that it led to the passage of the Farm Security Act.

We have the opposite argument here. Never mind John Deere: Let your individual gentleman cowboy ride high on his Ram.

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35 comments about "So God Made A Whiner".
  1. George Parker from Parker Consultants , February 7, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.
    Barbara... Damn, you never fail to hit the proverbial nail on the head. Obviously the "Farmer" spot is an Homage of an Homage of an Homage... Further proof that there's nothing new in advertising, but, for Christ's sake, let's not pretend otherwise. And, as I keep asking on "AdScam," how much did Oprah get for the Jeep spot... Or, did she donate the fee to a vet charity. Ha, yeah right. Even "Becks" when not doing underwear commercials with Mr. Madonna, has donated his new French football club salary to a children s charity. Obviously, the big question here is... Why do agencies and their clients keep churning out these soporific efforts? Do they actually believe consumers will be affected by these messages... Sadly, the answer is probably yes. Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker
  2. Steve Schildwachter from rVue , February 7, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.
    Barbara, before we get to the ad itself, let's talk about Paul Harvey. It is a stretch to call him "a Glenn Beck" or even a right-wing commentator. Personally, it's quite likely he was a conservative type. On the radio, however, he was traditional but apolitical. In the mid '80s doing morning news at WVIP-AM/FM, I looked forward to his 8:30 broadcast, and I was not only - gasp - a journalist but - gasp - a liberal. You might not like him, but he was very civilized. That's missing these days. The other thing missing, in that ad, anyway, were minorities. For that and other reasons you cite, you're right, it's not a documentary. It was still a great ad. Here were two other bloggers reactions, plus my own. http://edwardboches.com/why-ram-was-the-best-super-bowl-commercial http://www.adpulp.com/super-bowl-spots-jeep-versus-dodge-ram-and-my-dual-reaction/ http://admajoremblog.blogspot.com/2013/02/super-bowl-xlvii-advertising-what-worked.html
  3. Paul Kurnit from Kurnit Communications , February 7, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.
    Barbara, you just know too much! I agree with every point you make. And, the fundamental God premise is not in my world view. And, yet in the absence of knowing all the Harvey history, as a piece of communication, it was inspired, powerful Americana and a great spot for Ram...and, a lot better than Jeep's exploitation in the spot that Bob rightfully hated!
  4. Jim Palmer from Nonbox , February 7, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.
    I usually love your stuff Barbara, but on this one you're totally missing the point. Chrysler simply wanted to paint a positive picture of the American farmer, and get credit for doing so of course. Farmers don't have a very good image these days, so I really applaud the effort by Chrysler; within a sea of mundane and average or below Super Bowl commercials, their effort stood out. And I know how important it is to paint a positive picture of those who produce our food, no matter where they're from. I changed the whole dynamic of a big Ag Chemical company's advertising in the 1980's, from slamming you over the head with the benefits of weed control to extolling the benefits of the farmer. It worked for us, as I'm sure it will for Chrysler, and that really was the only thing they were trying to do.
  5. Scott Ellingboe from zambezi consultants , February 7, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.
    Unsubscribing from this email. I get enough leftist opinions and political correctness from all the rest of the media I consume. This one's gotta go.
  6. Rich Carr from Carr Knowledge , February 7, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.
    Assuming the headline of this article was written about you, I think you're missing the mark - or power - of Paul Harvey. You mentioned 'Pendulum' and I'd suggest you review Roy H. Williams and Michael Drew's "Pendulum"...about society's predictable behaviors that repeats itself every 40 years. If you understood this, as the agencies involved obviously do, you'd understand: * For an aging demo who ARE farmers, Paul Harvey WAS lifeblood. He was the truth. * For the younger demo, they long for the ethic Grandpa had. Paul Harvey was the spokesman of that AM listening, blue collar generation. I listened to Harvey and I read my share of Frost. Both masters of their media. It was a great spot because it connected on so many levels of consumers for reasons Paul Harvey connected via radio listeners. Now, RAM has leveraged that to sell trucks. You should also look at the income of these same farmers you've cluelessly dumped into 'poverty' as well with your recollection of history, as served up in the one article you read in the Atlantic. Credibility could happen some day.
  7. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360 , February 7, 2013 at 6:24 p.m.
    Fact: people eat food. Fact: The number of farmers is dwindling precipitiously. Fact: Most people, including apparently you, really don't give a s**t about the farmer. Something has got to change.
  8. Richard Krisher from Merion Matters , February 7, 2013 at 6:34 p.m.
    "Most people know that the farming industry has largely been taken over by Big Ag industrial farming corporations..." In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of 2010: "The vast majority of farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated." http://www.nifa.usda.gov/nea/ag_systems/in_focus/familyfarm_if_overview.html This spot evokes strong emotions, which is a sign it's good work.
  9. Steven Threndyle from media tent , February 7, 2013 at 6:38 p.m.
    I couldn't even watch this spot on social media - who knows what 1950s dystopia we would be in if that guy were president. You are absolutely right about big agra, where was Paul Harvey and Dodge when Willie Nelson organized Live Aid in the 1980s, or Don Henley sang A Month of Sundays? ("The banker was a farmer's friend...") Would that farmers got the same shake that Chrysler did. My dad came from a farming family; it sickens me to see farmers used in this shameless corporate manner.
  10. David Gutting from Barkley , February 7, 2013 at 6:38 p.m.
    I think the most dazzling array of photos attached to text was the 25-minute sci-fi masterpiece by Chris Marker, La Jetee. Other than that, Barbara, I agree with you here.
  11. Brenda Garrand from Garrand , February 7, 2013 at 6:44 p.m.
    Damn, that girl can write, our Ms. Lippert.
  12. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network , February 7, 2013 at 7:13 p.m.
    Could have been worse; ... could have been a Monsanto ad.
  13. Brian Spencer from JWT Action , February 7, 2013 at 7:18 p.m.
    1. You’d have to be very sensitive to consider Paul Harvey divisive. He was just an old guy telling nice stories. Yes, a bit like Robert Frost. 2. The “industrial farms” you are imagining are mostly independent family businesses which operate with very few workers and lots of expensive equipment and loans. To be successful, you still need many of the practical skills mentioned in the speech. 3. Using a Biblical narrative does not make a speech “based on creationism.” 4. Ram trucks are clearly not a luxury product for rich gentleman farmers. Walk the parking lot of a county fair.
  14. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , February 7, 2013 at 7:21 p.m.
    WHO buys Dodge Rams? Do they sell to Urban Farmers? Or is their market the very people they are showing? Being a faux cowboy was always desirable in fashion and attitude, but I don't recall farmer garb or three-legged stools catching on. When Ralph Lauren is shown milking a cow, we will know the farmer has re-arrived. Politically, I think Harvey was pitched by someone (maybe Wallace) to run for Vice-President but turned it down: politics never was his thing. The Future Farmers of America, hopefully still produce future farmers and not more hedge fund managers. Esthetically, I found Paul Harvey's voice (on those accidental occasions while driving around parts of the country other than Midtown Manhattan) always hyponotic and the rhythm of the writing perfectly calibrated for that voice, that sound that didn't need music as it was itself music. I can't remember anything he said, but was transfixed on how he said it. I especially liked the sparseness of his sign off. "This is Paul Harvey." As if you didn't know.
  15. Scott Pogue from Agrisa , February 7, 2013 at 7:46 p.m.
    Liked the article Barbara, but...I think you meant to say strong enough to wrestle a calf...not rustle a calf. He would have been lynched! And that's the rest of the story.
  16. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , February 7, 2013 at 7:59 p.m.
    Hunger created farmers. Those over gas guzzling machines are a fortune. Struggling farmers cannot have this truck on their to buy list instead of feed or seed. Wealthy farmers, many supported not to grow, who can afford a shiny new $60-80,000+ truck are not represented in Harvey's taped rant. (Of course there are some businesses where this truck is needed, but that's not the point.) Chrysler didn't sell trucks with this one either and this spot may even backfire enough to way offset sales. Barbara, you are the critical gem that we miss elsewhere.
  17. Gary Pageau from InfoCircle LLC , February 7, 2013 at 8:08 p.m.
    I wouldn't expect a self-professed unabashed liberal to appreciate the Chrysler spot, but I am surprised a revered marketing expert like Barbara Lippert could be so far of the mark. In the end, Chrysler is obligated to sell Dodge Ram trucks to its target market, which in this case, is what you Manhattanites refer to as "flyover country." Here in Michigan, more than a few people are farmers, and they are not "Big Ag." These are the customers who are tired of Madison Ave. taking them for granted. There's more to life than "Sex and the City" and "Mad Men." Barbara, not all ads are designed as perfect reflections of the current world -- or does everyone in your world look like the guys in the Calvin Klein ad? Maybe it's more about presenting an ideal and, yes, farming is a noble profession.
  18. Mark Dubis from The Dubis Group , February 7, 2013 at 9:34 p.m.
    I think most of you have missed the point by a country mile. I thought the tone of many of the highly rated (by the public – not ad execs) commercials had a good strong message about where our country is today. We have sunk to a low point in many areas and are focused on looking out for number one, and screw the other guy. We have lost trust in just about every institution out there, not to mention our elected officials and auto retailers. Some of us want to work to restore trust in these organizations and other just want to complain about the hard work of others. Did you notice the common threads running through these commercials that speaks to our core beliefs about nurturing relationships, our desire to be the best, to love and enjoy life, and do the work that we are called on to do, whether it’s on a farm, or fighting against enemies that threaten our way of life? We are a country that works hard, gives it our all, cherishes what is dear to us, and then when the work is done, we play hard too. What it all means . . . is at the end of the day we are all neighbors, watching out for each other, lending a hand, fighting the temptation to take shortcuts to achieve our goals, and recognizing the importance of something simple like a smile. It’s clear Barbara you were just looking for ways to rip a commercial apart based on your need to micro-analyze every little nuance. I believe that if you are looking for no place to park, you will always find no place to park. Here was my perspective on these commercials. http://carfolks.net/america-its-about-neighbors/
  19. Jerry Johnson from Brodeur Partners , February 7, 2013 at 10:21 p.m.
    Curious. You don't like the piece because (a) it doesn't reflect the real world; (b) your dad didn't like Paul Harvey; and (c) it hinted at Christianity. That's it? Interesting criteria. BTW, I think 90% of the ads today would get past #1.
  20. Kristi Otto from guardit technologies , February 7, 2013 at 10:27 p.m.
    I find your review of the Ram Commercial completely sophomoric. Its clear that you have no true sense of what the agriculture industry in this country is really all about, presumably because you live on the west coast and the east coast. California has given in to big Agriculture, but not all of the agriculture has. Parts of that commercial were filmed in Texas not Montana and yes, cowboys do still dress that way. They go to church and worship, support each other and their community. Ranchers "pull calves" (deliver the calf) and could probably deliver a baby if necessary. It is a hard working, often thankless job. And by the way, if God made whiners, they are NOT on the farm. I've never met a Farmer that was a whiner. I'm sorry that Paul Harvey's voice was so offensive to you that you missed the core message of focusing and celebrating traditional values and hard work somehow found a way sought to pick apart a 1940's poem. (Creationists??Really?) It was a realistic, albeit romantic portrayal and tribute to a group of people that work exceptionally hard. I know because I own one of the Family Ranches and employ Hispanics of three generations who are Legal, talented and loyal. Why? because we respect them. I encourage you to venture outside the city sometime and get a first hand education. And the next time you pour milk on your cereal or arrange that organic salad, filet mignon or free range chicken on your plate, remember is was Farmer who put it there.
  21. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , February 7, 2013 at 10:38 p.m.
    @Kristi-- actually, I was calling myself a whiner! I know farmers are the exact opposite of whiners, and I know how hard they work. Congrats on your ranch. Happy to hear that.
  22. Kristi Otto from guardit technologies , February 7, 2013 at 10:44 p.m.
    Thank you.
  23. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , February 7, 2013 at 10:44 p.m.
    i actually wonder if there are any atheists running farms......but the amish wouldn't qualify for the commercial unless the car was towed by a horse....there could have a kibbutz or some kibbutzim...... farmers do whine, but as they whine they do something about the cause of the whine like shooting the hawks or the ground hogs or figuring out irrigation.........farms contract because the land becomes too valuable and the other farms become more efficient..............................i once wrote a story about a farmer in manhattan who buys up all the property in a square block on the west side and grows cucumbers and has a cow for his own milk consumption...... farmers are pragmatists but they are also big spenders in casinos--oddly true that farmers are a core of the mini-whale community----perhaps post-harvest or post cashing in on the futures..........
  24. Collier Ward from CASA Designs , February 8, 2013 at 12:03 a.m.
    I'm not an ad man, I chose a different design profession thirty-something years ago (pun intended). I did enjoy the ad very much, but then I'm partial to nostalgia, Americana, and -yes- Paul Harvey. I've also enjoyed the variety of views expressed here. The old-school farmer probably didn't know such leisure pursuits as critiquing television ads.
  25. Mike Cornelison from @mcjazzbass , February 8, 2013 at 1:47 a.m.
    Honestly? You describe Paul Harvey as a guy who was "ranting" and liken him to Glen Beck? What kind of alternate reality does someone have to live in to think that? Oh wait, you just explained it, your dad turned the station as soon as he heard Harvey's voice! So you never really listened to the guy, did you? That's the only way to explain it, because Paul Harvey was about as apolitical as Reader's Digest.
  26. Mike Cornelison from @mcjazzbass , February 8, 2013 at 1:51 a.m.
    I've read a lot of outrageous things in my time on the Internet, but describing Paul Harvey's broadcasts as "ranting" and likening him to Glen Beck is just about as loony as the most ludicrous of any of them.
  27. Jim O'neal from Independant Media Consultant , February 8, 2013 at 9 a.m.
    Putting Glen Beck's name anywhere near Paul Harvey's is just plain idiotic and you obviously didn't know Paul Harvey's work that well. Mr. Harvey reached tens of millions of people for over 50 years with his reports and funny human interest stories. Beck...yeah, look at his career of fear mongering, paranoia and rants...sure, they are cut of the same cloth!! Ughhh...
  28. Kj Herzog from Farm Journal , February 8, 2013 at 9:43 a.m.
    You need to get your facts straight. 97% of farms in the US are family farms. Most farms are small farms (small being under $250,000 farm income) and small farms have the majority of farm assets. Here is the link that substantiates this information: http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/charts-of-note.aspx
  29. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , February 8, 2013 at 10:46 a.m.
    This ad is not a movie. But, like a movie, it got us to suspend reality and beliefs in favor of the story and the emotion of the moment. Yes, lots of people know how the family farm is disappearing and how agribusiness delivers much of what we actually eat. But even atheists can admire the ideals of a person who labors at a task, with no guarantee of success, subject to the whims of weather, who seeks no other reward than delivery of a crop. If the advertising works (which it likely did for an uncounted number), especially for those who do not use a truck as a utilitarian vehicle, that ideal becomes the brand, which becomes the chosen vehicle. And for those who already own Dodge Ram, you have been validated.
  30. Steve Hall from Adrants , February 8, 2013 at 11:02 a.m.
    All good points, of course, Barbara but as you well know, it's very easy to over analyze things. We do it all the time. Sometimes we just need to step back and appreciate the simplicity of the message. And this was a simple message. Celebrating the hard work of Americans. Yes, it focused on farmers but, overall, it spoke to the salt of the earth, hard working American...or any human being for that matter. It was a beautiful spot. Let's leave it at that.
  31. Kathy Broniecki from Envoy, Inc. , February 8, 2013 at 11:49 a.m.
    Someone is thinking too much. It was effective and emotional. Being a farmer's daughter who grew up listening to Paul Harvey - this commercial took me back to a late evening in 1965 when my dad came in from a hard, long day of cutting wheat or planting alfalfa. I would watch as he removed his Ray-Bans and expose two blue eyes set squarely in the middle of a tanned, plow-dirty face. It was nostalgic and made me proud of our hard-working farmers.
  32. John Montgomery from GroupM Interaction , February 8, 2013 at 11:56 a.m.
    Maybe you are over-intellectualizing here. Consider who buys trucks and whether the ad appealed to the right audience: Strong family values - check God-fearing - check Conservative - check Appealed to blue collar, middle America - check Patriotic - check Appealed to Barbara Lippert - not so much. Love your writing.
  33. David Waterman from Waterman Digital Media , February 8, 2013 at 3:20 p.m.
    I live in the upper midwest, and everyone I’ve talked to, really liked the ad. All the farmers I know are family farmers, and I know quite a few. Many family farms have incorporated themselves, but whether they operate as "corporations" or "sole proprietorships" they're still "family owned" farms. Unfortunately, industrial corporate farming is likely to increase because fewer and fewer men are willing to make the sacrifices, or take the risks necessary to be farmers. And federal regulations have helped push all but the most determined out of farming. Those that remain take great pride in working hard to provide food for our nation, and others. (Did you know that farming is still one of the most dangerous professions in the world?) Probably the least accurate aspect of the commercial is the fact that these days cattle and other livestock, are generally raised by ranchers, not farmers. Ranchers are a lot like the old country doctors - on call 24/7. Last year I interviewed several of them for a film we produced. One of them lamented to me that ranchers are a dying breed because most young people aren't willing to work hard enough to raise cattle. The description Paul Harvey gave of tough and gentle couldn't be more accurate. And yes their hands are calloused and chapped and rough. (Better calloused hands than a calloused heart). And they work in hot, dirty, dusty, conditions, and they get sweaty and tired, (just like in the commercial). They hire immigrants, because as they will tell you, "Americans just aren’t willing to work that hard." Ironically, many of those Ram trucks will go to people with lily-soft hands, and designer jeans who wouldn't know a baler from a cultivator who like to think of themselves as hard workers. I realize that someone who's been sheltered from reality living on the coasts, might be confused by some of the imagery in the commercial but I'd be careful how critical you are of farmers or Paul Harvey, since you seem really unfamiliar with both of them. It's sad that you were put off by the fact that there are still people in the country who believe in, pray to, and worship the God of the universe. Everyone worships something or someone. And yes a lot of people (thankfully) still think it's best to worship the One who created them. I guess there are wealthy farmers and ranchers who are Christians, and maybe most of them are white. I just didn't know that was a sin. The prophet Agar pleaded with God saying; 'Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, lest I be full and deny Thee, and say "Who is the Lord?" Or lest I be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God."' (Does either description apply to you?) I wouldn't say that God made you a whiner, but you are misinformed. If you could spend a day on a farm or ranch in the midwest, you might come to appreciate the great tribute Paul Harvey made to the people who work so hard to produce the food you put on your table.
  34. Robin Smith from C.R. Smith , February 8, 2013 at 4:47 p.m.
    Paul Harvey was a divisive ranter? Gracious, sweetie, what on earth are you talking about? Maybe if your dad had actually listened to a broadcast you would be in a better place to have an opinion. (I believe it's called being liberal and open-minded; actually letting thoughts other than your own creep in sometimes. Try it.)
  35. P.E. Blake from none , February 10, 2013 at 1:56 p.m.
    Dear Barb, You are so wrong on this! First, believe it or not ... there are more farmers who live in states other than California! And believe it or not they are doing pretty darn well these days out here in flyover country. They are buying John Deere equipment and even "expensive" pickup trucks. Come visit the Midwest sometime. There are good friendly people out here and some of own (and work) farms. P.E. Blake, Fitchburg, Wisconsin