From field to small screen

Written by Marjie Knust

Farmers take over the airwaves as companies embrace agriculture in advertising

Amid the talking babies, celebrity cameos and slick production values, this year’s most talked about Super Bowl commercial featured nothing more than still photos and a simple voiceover from radio legend Paul Harvey. Dodge® Ram’s “God Made a Farmer” commercial led morning-after polls as the best Super Bowl commercial of 2013. The powerful message resonated beyond those in the agricultural community. Twitter and other social media sites lit up with memories of grandparents’ farms or simple notes of gratitude to the nation’s farmers.

The ad is just the latest in a string of marketing campaigns by various companies centered around farmers, growers or producers. Lay’s® potato chips recently aired commercials featuring potato farmers and McDonald’s® highlights potato, lettuce and beef farmers in its most recent campaign.

“Brands today are trying to bring their customers closer to their food source,” says Steve Hall, creator of the advertising blog Adrants. “For a while now, consumers have been questioning what’s in their food and where it comes from. Using farmers in commercials adds to the validity of the message that their food is real and natural.”

With most Americans generations removed from the farm, many consumers are unaware of modern farming practices or the process of getting food from farm to table. And they don’t necessarily trust food companies to tell them. According to research from the Center for Food Integrity, consumers trust farmers more than food companies, food-specific websites or TV news. Research from Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the nation’s dairy check-off program, has shown similar results.

“The research shows there is a kind of love affair between American consumers and dairy farmers,” says David Pelzer, senior vice president of strategic communications for DMI. “Consumers like and trust dairy producers because they can look a consumer in the eye and say ‘I stand behind this product, and I work hard every day to deliver a safe, quality product produced in a sustainable way.’ You have to back that up, but trust in the person translates to trust in the product.”

The strategy of using farmers to tell a brand’s story worked for Domino’s Pizza®, which has an ongoing partnership with DMI. Three years ago, the pizza chain set about to completely reinvent its product and its brand. In addition to reformulating its pizza, the company’s executives launched an advertising campaign focused on transparency, taking a closer look at the ingredients used. One memorable commercial showed a focus group complaining that the ingredients in Domino’s pizza, including the sauce and cheese, weren’t “real.” The walls to the conference room the group was in fell away to reveal a real, working dairy farm in Wisconsin.

The commercial contributed to an 11 percent increase in domestic same store sales the quarter it debuted, according to a Domino’s press release. The company continues to work with DMI to incorporate producers in its marketing efforts.

“In October, Domino’s worked in 10 states to bring farmers into stores to help do taste tests and hand out pizzas to customers picking up orders,” says Jennifer Wing, DMI vice president of producer communications. “They also took samples to fire departments, places like that. They are really doing a lot of little things at the local level to integrate producers in their efforts both directly and indirectly.”