One of the most acclaimed television ads from Sunday's Super Bowl was Chrysler's "So God Made a Farmer." It was two minutes of love and nostalgia for the heartland, narrated by iconic radio voice Paul Harvey.
At the core, this was about selling Dodge Ram trucks, but the spot was -- by most next-day online polls -- a sentimental winner. A series of photographic images commissioned by Chrysler in partnership with The Richards Group of Dallas featured farmers on tractors, kneeling in prayer, farmhouses at sunset, barns, silos, an American flag in a window, cows milling around a Ram truck.
Over this is an audio excerpt from Harvey's 1978 speech to the Future Farmers of America. Delivered in his signature style -- full of dramatic pauses -- he describes a farmer as "somebody who would bale the family together with the soft, strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh, and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says that he wants to spend his life doing what Dad does.
"So, God made a farmer."
"This may be a first or a near-first, someone licensing a radio voice," said Eric Rhoads, publisher of radio industry trade publication Radio Ink.
"Prior to Paul's death not too long ago [in 2009], he was the most recognized voice in America. He had been on the radio for multiple generations, and everyone had been exposed to him in one way or another. His 12-noon newscast every day was the most listened-to radio program in America," Mr. Rhoads said.
A native of Tulsa, Okla. and a staunch conservative, Harvey was 90 at the time of his death. He began his radio career in 1933, when he was a young teen and for decades was known as the man who turned newscasts into storytelling.
His broadcasts would often end with the tag line "and that's the rest of the story."
"I think there was a sense of comfort and security for everyone who heard him. You knew you could trust him, you knew he would tell the truth," Mr. Rhoads said.
Little surprise that Chrysler would approve his narrating the advertisement that likely was one of the priciest ads this year (advertisers were paying from $3.8 million to $4 million for a 30-second spot).
Despite its all-American vibe, the short has its roots planted somewhat to the north. Several years ago, Joe Dales was surfing around MySpace.com when he came across audio of the "So God Made a Farmer" address.
Mr. Dales, a vice president and one of the founders of www.Farms.com, thought it might make a nice YouTube video in praise of farming.
"It hit home with farmers. ... We just pulled together a little montage of photos and we didn't think too much about it," he said.
Farms.com is an international site, with offices in Iowa, North Carolina and London, Ontario. The original video (www.youtube.com/watch?vQuzhwkaNC40) makes several references to Canada. Mr. Dales said Chrysler provided financial compensation for the idea that includes banner ads on Farms.com.
"We're just delighted to present these wonderful artists and Paul Harvey and to get such a positive message for our sector, because a lot of people don't think about us. We kind of take our food for granted," Mr. Dales said.
True, the ad is a bit dated. Critics have noted that the farming industry is far more corporate now than it was in 1978, and despite Harvey's former status as the most recognized voice in the country, few under the age of 25 might know him today.
As one poster tweeted during the game: "I'm trending on Twitter? What the hell is Twitter? -- Ghost of Paul Harvey."
Among millennials on the website, www.ypulse.com, it wasn't mentioned in the top six Super Bowl ads. By general consensus, Budweiser's "Brotherhood ad" -- about a man reuniting with the Clydesdale he had raised from a foal -- was the biggest success in most polls.
But 17-year-olds aren't buying workload trucks. That puts the Paul Harvey narration in comfortably within the targeted audience. Chrysler had another two-minute commercial for Jeep, which welcomed home veterans of the armed forces.
This spot, narrated by Oprah Winfrey, didn't seem to resonate as well as the "So God Made a Farmer" ad.
As Time magazine columnist James Poniewozik tweeted, "loved the Paul Harvey Ram ad in spite of myself. Almost Johnny Cash-like raw Americana wordpower."
The "So God Made a Farmer" ad is designed to do more than sell trucks, according to the company.
Chrysler's Ram Truck brand, Farms.com, agricultural equipment manager Case IH and other brand partners aim to raise $1 million to benefit the National FFA Organization. Ram will donate toward the fund with every view, download or share of the ad at www.ramtrucks.com/keepplowing.
Ad Age magazine, in partnership with social TV analytics company Bluefin Labs, registered the spot as the winner in terms of social media. It received 402,000 comments on Twitter and public Facebook.
Overall, there were 3.9 million mentions of Super Bowl ads on social media this year, up 225 percent from a year ago.
And that, in an age of advertising across a multitude of platforms, is the rest of the story.
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