My Favorite Superbowl Commercial – “God Made a Farmer”

Before too much time passes, I wanted to briefly touch on this. Someone asked me the other day what my favorite Superbowl commercial was this year. Most of the time, the writers of these commercials try a little too hard, and the commercials come off as dull, a little too cute, or just plain strange, although there’s usually some that wow me or make me chuckle. This year’s choice, however, was an easy one for me to select:  the Dodge Ram “God Made a Farmer” ad.

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, who was unemployed and did odd jobs for golf and beer money, such as delivering phone books or repairing lawn mowers. As we rode around in his car, we’d catch Paul Harvey on the radio. Harvey was an American radio broadcaster for the ABC Radio Networks who covered news and commentary, as well as his famous The Rest of the Story segments. From the 1950s through the 1990s, Harvey’s programs reached as many as 24 million people a week. Paul Harvey News was carried on 1,200 radio stations, 400 Armed Forces Network stations and 300 newspapers. His success with sponsors stemmed from the seamlessness with which he segued from his monologue into reading commercial messages. He explained his relationship with them, saying “I am fiercely loyal to those willing to put their money where my mouth is.”

His New York Times obituary says:
[He] “personalized the radio news with his right-wing opinions, but laced them with his own trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average Americans and folksy observations that evoked the heartland, family values and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around the dinner table on Sunday.”
“‘Hello, Americans,’ he barked. ‘This is Paul Harvey! Stand byyy for Newwws!'”
“He railed against welfare cheats and defended the death penalty. He worried about the national debt, big government, bureaucrats who lacked common sense, permissive parents, leftist radicals and America succumbing to moral decay. He championed rugged individualism, love of God and country, and the fundamental decency of ordinary people.”

He was elected to the National Association of Broadcasters National Radio Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Hall of Fame, and appeared on the Gallup poll list of America’s most admired men. In addition he received 11 Freedom Foundation Awards as well as the Horatio Alger Award. In 2005, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ most prestigious civilian award, by President George W. Bush. Paul Harvey died in 2009 at the age of 90.

If you’ve never heard Paul Harvey, you’re missing out, because he was one of the great orators of modern times. His frank, earnest voice, his ability to pause for dramatic effect, his ability to feed you carefully worded details that built up to the pay-off, telling stories of average people one day, then an average person who became an iconic figure the next, his closing line of “…and now you know the rest of the story” – these are all the elements of what makes Paul Harvey great.

The Dodge ad provided images to go along with the narration. Ram commissioned 10 noted photographers including National Geographic icon William Albert Allard and renowned documentary photographer Kurt Markus to document American farm life, yielding a beautiful and comprehensive catalog of farming images. Even though the two-minute commercial, which now has more than 8.5 million views on YouTube, wasn’t necessarily about the brand and only shows a Ram 1500 for 10 seconds, it is paying dividends for the company. Traffic to Ram’s website has increased more than 10-fold since the ad first aired.

brian and grampa nelson

I always felt that my grandfather would have made a great “The Rest of the Story” profile, except that he was lacking one element that was necessary: the pay-off. According to him, he raced cars with the Andretti family as boys in Colorado Springs; he was a tailgunner in a B-17 bomber in Italy and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross; after the war he flew high altitude test missions with Chuck Yeager and was also a race car driver. He married my grandmother and had 4 children and 5 grandchildren (of which I was the first). All those accomplishment, however, were overshadowed by his alcoholism, which created many problems for him. Also, heavy smoking gave him emphysema and put him in the hospital, where he died of pneumonia almost 20 years ago. Though he had his faults, he loved me dearly, and being unemployed, he took me with him everywhere he went. A boy couldn’t have asked for a better grandfather, and I’ve missed him greatly for quite some time.

In speaking to what this ad means to me, it was a time machine back to my childhood as I rode around with my grandfather and listened to “the rest of the story.” For bringing back those memories, Dodge Ram hooked me in  a way no other commercial could, and was my favorite Superbowl commercial.

Here are a couple of links to follow if you are interested:

The Dodge Ram Commercial “God Made a Farmer”

The Unofficial Paul Harvey Archives (whose page hits have understandably exploded)