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Best Super Bowl ad of 2013 creates controversy

Unquestionably the best ad of the 2013 Super Bowl is the “God made a farmer” tribute for Dodge Ram trucks. But instead of being able to celebrate a victory, the company finds itself in the midst of controversy as advertisers debate an issue related to the making of the ad.

The Ram Truck brand introduced the two-minute spot during Super Bowl XLVII bringing attention to the significance of the farmer. The ad features the stirring “So God Made a Farmer” tribute delivered by legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey. Instead of using motion footage, ten noted photographers were commissioned to document American farm life. Many of these artful and compelling still images provide the visual mosaic for “Farmer,” while Harvey’s passionate oration provides the narration.

Clean and clear, the ad does what most Superbowl ads fail to do — it creates emotional impact by avoiding all the distractions that typically interfere with our ability to feel something while watching an ad.

What became controversial is that the ad appears to be a direct ripoff of an ad run by farms.com some years back. That commercial used exactly the same Paul Harvey audio tribute, and also showed still photos of farm life. That version is not nearly as sophisticated, with photos that look more like snapshots and uses too heavy a hand with the Ken Burns effect to add motion, which cheapens the delivery. So in light of this information, ad people are crying foul.

As the late Paul Harvey would have said, “Here’s the rest of the story.”

When is a ripoff not a ripoff?

In actual fact, farms.com collaborated with Dodge to produce an updated version of the ad in order to bring attention to the American farmer. It was planned from the beginning. Dodge’s Design Chief Ryan Nagode tweeted that it was all planned:

@Jalopnik …. @farmsmedia partnered with @RamTrucks, go to www.ramtrucks.com/keepplowing it’s not a rip, it’s keeping the idea alive. #RamTrucks

Even a visit to farms.com shows the new ad featured prominently, with no sign of the original anywhere in sight.

Ad agency Richards Group unfortunately gets caught up in something that takes attention away from the quality of the work. Now that the issue has been raised, knowing that it was commissioned by the original client doesn’t seem to satisfy those who are critical. They’re now asking if those who made the original spot were somehow recognized for their contribution. That’s not a fair question because the client who commissions a work has the right to have that same work remade in the future. They paid for the idea.

The controversy begs the question, “could this all have been avoided?” In my view, yes. A simple news release issued ahead of the game covering the story of the remake and why would have essentially eliminated any controversy.

Here’s the original spot:

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George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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