Last night's commercial onslaught for Super Bowl XLVII made for more Monday-morning debate than the game itself, between gross-out make-out sessions, a Clydesdale re-enacting "Lassie" and various ill-considered celebrity endorsements. With 12 spots in total, the auto industry was the largest driver of the night's advertainment, and of those, the best was one that had no stars, no special effects and no pre-game teasing: Ram's two-minute "Farmer" ad.
Heart-stirring surprise spots has been a strategy for Chrysler-Fiat chief marketer Francois Olivier since 2009, from the Eminem spot for Chrysler two years ago to the Jeep ad hailing veterans with a voice over from Oprah. And no automotive nameplate needed the attention more than Ram: Chrysler's decision to make Ram its own brand has so little traction to date that after the spot aired, Dodge became a trending topic on Twitter instead. Twitter also provided the surest sign that the ad caught the attention of Ram's toughest rival, when Ford posted minutes after the ad boasting of its support of the Future Farmers of America, like two gals tussling over a boy at a Sadie Hawkins dance.
The ad's power starts with its sound, that of Paul Harvey reading the essay "God Made A Farmer." If you've ever lived in the Midwest or South, that voice made you sit up straight; Harvey passed in 2009, but his way of telling "the rest of the story" remains implanted on millions of us. For the photo slideshow (something Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne frequently uses in his speeches) Chrysler sent ten professional photographers into the fields to "document American farm life." I'd only quibble with the word "document," because the farm life these photographers captured looks a little too pristine compared to what I'm familiar with, although Ram rightly left in the shot of a hand bereft of fingernails. (It also took a few seconds to promote another product of the Fiat industrial family: Case tractors.)
Unlike last year's Chrysler Super Bowl surprise of Clint Eastwood growling about "halftime in America," this ad actually makes sense. In rural America, Ram trucks have been a perennial third choice behind Ford and Chevy/GMC, but the new models have enough technology and interior accoutrements to make a play for owners from both camps willing to consider a change. Celebrating farming puts Ram in the minds of pickup truck owners who might not have given the brand a chance before. We'll have to wait and see what springs forth from this seed.