I tried hard not to watch the Superbowl this year. The teams weren’t that interesting and the ads felt even less compelling, especially the uninspiring “previews”. Besides, I knew I’d be able to catch up on them afterwards in the numerous review pages. But the blackout conspired against me which meant that when the enforced episode of “Downton” ended, there was the fourth quarter waiting for me. And, as it turned out, what was by far the best ad of the entire game, Dodge Ram’s “So God Created A Farmer” ad.
The strength of the ad was in the way it broke through the clutter and sameness of the typical Superbowl ad. No safe frat jokes, schmaltzy humor or CGI overkill. Simply by using a spoken word soundtrack and striking photography it teased the viewer into following a story and the soft sell, slow reveal of its sponsor.
By the next day, it was revealed that the ad, that was already generating a great deal of positive buzz, was pretty much lifted from this YouTube video created by Farms.com.
Farms.com had given Dodge full approval and support, as you will likely see in their video. But this certainly brought up all sorts of questions about the creativity and originality. For years marketers have begged, borrowed and outright stolen cultural artifacts and pop themes from their creators in the name of creativity and staying ahead of the curve. This case is really not all that different with the exception of the tone and level of production.The monologue in the Farms.com video includes a mild joke about the male farmer enduring “visiting ladies”, (and the audience laughter in the background). The photos are a mixed bag, they include women, but are in and out of focus, include women, but some appear to be from Canada. And many include farm equipment and vehicles, but none made by Dodge or their partners Case Tractors. The Dodge video airbrushes many of these faults by editing out the joke, using striking, high quality photography and subtly inserting their own vehicles in the images.
Brands have been steadily increasing their role in curating and creating social content. What’s interesting about this case is that the flow has gone in a different direction. Instead of brands creating content and allowing it to be socialized, in this case the brand has taken social content and branded it. I think this is an interesting flow and one that we’ll likely see more of considering the critical success of the ad. (Though I really doubt it will sell more trucks).
In this flow from social to branded content what does seem to get lost is the freshness, originality and vibrancy of the original, amateur, content. What Dodge did with their production and especially with their photography was to create a highly iconic and nostalgic view of the farmer. And while this is often what advertising is supposed to do, there is a danger here. Nostalgia reminds us of times that never were and at often can make us comfortable with our prejudices. This was brought out strongly when many pointed out that over 50% of farmers and farm workers in America are Hispanic. It’s clearly not part of the vision of the farmer that Dodge wanted to put up, and an issue that I don’t think comes to mind in the Farms.com video with all of its amateur naivete. But we're now in a new world of remixing, where anyone can create and define their own iconography and nostalgia. So when the Brave New Foundation, posted their own remix, below, they again reversed the content flow, and helped complete a more accurate picture.