These words summarized what was arguably the best commercial of the 47th Super Bowl between the Ravens and 49ers. I was not surprised that this Dodge Ram Truck commercial rose to the top of the pack, since I have been a long-time fan of the man whose touching words graced the 2 minute ad – Paul Harvey. The most intriguing aspect of this ad was that it was as low-tech as it gets. No fancy computer graphics. No matinee idols. No pop culture icons. No questionable language. No massive creative ad budget. It was merely the legendary voice of Paul Harvey, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 90, reciting a 35 year old text… and a series of touching photographs. Let’s take a look at the elements of this great ad and understand why it proved to be so appealing to so many – even lifelong inhabitants of big cities whose only experience with farms has been watching them on TV.
Image Credit – Chrysler Dodge
The Power To Move People – The Messenger
Based on my recent article regarding Looklet’s LookCreator software replacing photographers and models in the clothing catalog arena, some of you may have thought that I was ceding the world of photography to high end computer graphics. Nothing could be further from the truth. I still believe that a photograph can have profound impacts and change people’s minds and hearts, and in some cases, their wallets as well.
I admit that I got a bit misty-eyed during this Dodge commercial. The first reason involved hearing Paul Harvey’s voice again. I don’t hear it as much since he passed away, but in my youth, I listened to him extensively. For those of you that are not familiar with his work, I would strongly urge you to seek out and listen to some of his radio programs on the internet. Paul Harvey was an amazing man. He had a kind and reassuring confidence, an unforgettable voice, and a way of telling stories that few, if any, could rival.
In my college years, I had a part time job delivering the Sunday newspapers to many of the local Mom & Pop stores in the far reaches of Northeastern Pennsylvania. At 3:30 in the morning, apart from a few deer, raccoons, and the occasional spillover from the Saturday night bar crowd, I was alone on many of the back country roads of the region. Along the way, I listened to Paul Harvey’s inspirational tales, wisdom, and folksy humor on various radio stations and on my cassette player. I was captivated no only with his stories, but the masterful way in which he told them. Sadly, far too few people know of Paul Harvey and his amazing work.
Paul Harvey had unique ability to artfully and tastefully intertwine fascinating stories and advertising pitches in ways that most modern day media companies would die for. And unlike many modern day celebrities hawking products, if Paul Harvey advertised something – you believed him. I would find myself listening to Harvey’s description of the gripping challenges facing America’s Founding Fathers during the Revolutionary War, but soon was asking myself, “Do I really have enough life insurance?” And I wasn’t even old enough to seriously consider such issues!
Gripping Images That Touch One’s Soul – The Photographs
What made this Dodge Ram Truck commercial so fascinating was its simplicity. The imagery was a series beautiful and stirring photographs carefully selected to match the narrative of Paul Harvey’s “So God Made A Farmer” soliloquy. I have not seen such a well-matched combination of a story and some simple photos to make an impression on an audience since I first watched Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” documentary. If you have not seen Burn’s mini-series, I urge you to get a copy or find out when it is playing on your local Public Broadcasting Station. It will give you a wonderful lesson in how to capture people’s imaginations with little more than some old photos, a bit of panning technique, a compelling narrative, and some simple music.
The Richards Group, of Dallas, Texas, was the creative agency behind the ad. They enlisted 10 photographers, including the well-respected William Albert Allard and a popular documentary photographer named Kurt Markus. These photos, along with Paul Harvey’s moving commentary, touched our imaginations and our hearts, and stood out among the others – no small accomplishment considering that Super Bowl ads attract more money, creative energies, and competition by far than any other event. From an advertising perspective, it simply doesn’t get any better.
Inspiration For The Future – We Are All Storytellers
Everyone in the photography field should take note of this commercial and find a bit of inspiration in it. In an age where we are inundated with high tech special effects, reality TV shows and their various outrageous characters seeking their 15 minutes in the spotlight, and advertising that often seeks to shock rather than convince us, this commercial was refreshing and a stark departure from the norm. It should lead all of us to rethink our photography exploits and, toward the same end, continually examine how we strive to have our photographs tell the stories we wish to share.
Paul Harvey’s Original Text In Full
And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.” So God made a farmer.
“I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife’s done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon — and mean it.” So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’ I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘tractor back,’ put in another seventy-two hours.” So God made a farmer.
God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor’s place. So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church.
“Somebody who’d bale a 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 he wants to spend his life ‘doing what dad does.’” So God made a farmer.
What did you think of the commercial and what does it say about how photography can be used to effectively convey a message and stir people’s emotions?