Maybe I’m aging out of the demographic. Maybe a lot of sponsors should demand their money back. Either way it seemed that with costs ranging from $3.8 to $4 million per 30-second spot, the value seemed to be lacking.
Unless you look at all of them as regressions, then even some of the average spots might get some Monday replays. For once the game was compelling, and you could actually leave the room during the breaks. In hours of programming, only spot one stood out.
Blake Harris wrote “So the only time all night the room has been totally silent has been during the Paul Harvey commercial. Everyone was glued to tv.”
You could write an essay why. Some obvious points — Paul Harvey, a way of life, a lack of shrill Madison Avenue attitude and agriculture — jump out.
Paul Harvey was the consensus best broadcaster in the business for generations. There’s not much argument on this, nor should there be. The industry won’t allow anyone like him again, let alone better than him. A statement like that owes a lot to his longevity and his staff, but the man had a voice and an intriguing pace. He had a touch with a microphone and everyone attached to his programming had a deft feel for a central element of society.
And maybe those times have changed. Demographies are always changing, improving and evolving. Maybe the people that could identify with Harvey are just living quietly and being drowned out by the morass of mass media. Maybe there’s a lifestyle of quiet humility and moral rectitude that is just beneath the surface. Maybe the spot appeals to a generational nostalgia for which we long. Maybe that’s gone forever. None of these are particularly true over another. All of those things — celebrated in a spot like that, by a man like that — still exist. They’re just a little harder to see because of all the other noise.
You’ve watched commercials, seen ads, felt the highs and lows of every medium. You’ve seen the Super Bowl spots. Reduce any of these things to their own elements. Make them stand alone, apart, from their advertising counterparts. They can be absurd, necessary of course, but absurd. Take your financial advice from a talking baby. Choose your insurance because an actor is pretending to be snow on a roof. Consider every ad produced since “Sex sells” became the first rule of the creative industry. There’s not much else to say about Madison Avenue after that. Perhaps an ad not designed to shock or titillate is actually a winner
Not to talk about that ad frame for frame, but that long, wide, bleak shot of that Angus at the beginning said so much about what you were about to experience. Paul Harvey was talking to the 1978 National FFA Convention in Kansas City in that speech, extolling the virtues of a way of life that, as a society, we’ve almost forgotten because most of us have never known it personally. Because of economic turns and technology and the postal system and education and all manner of things the farm has typically become a big corporate organization. There are less people doing the hard work to keep us fed, even as the production is increasing.
When Paul Harvey made that speech in 1978 the national numbers were:
Total population: 227,020,000
Farm population: 6,051,000
Farmers 3.4% of labor force
Number of farms: 2,439,510
Things were changing awfully fast. Still are, in many respects. These days only 1.96 million people in the U.S. are farmers or working directly in the agricultural industry whereas the nation is filled with an estimated 315,268,206 people as of this writing.
When I was in the FFA — I had the pleasure of attending five national conventions and served as a state officer in the Alabama FFA Association — the stat in use was that two percent of Americans were farmers. That percentage continues to decline, making a narrow part of the hourglass ever more slender.
There’s a movement afoot, the locavore movement, people that aspire to eat local produce, which would naturally promote a simpler example of farm economics. It must be serious because we’ve mangled words to create a new title for them within the language. Maybe a quiet shift is coming. Maybe there’s just a longing for a more romanticized time. Maybe it is just a great spot, filled with both nostalgia and truth.
Ultimately you take two iconic pieces of Americana, Paul Harvey and the men and women on the farm. (Yes, the spot needed migrant workers.) Put them in a quiet presentation that belies every other spot running against it with a tone that didn’t need to be crafted by a skyscraper executive* and you’ll beat a GoDaddy commercial every time. A Wall Street Journal blog has already called it “The Great American Super Bowl Commercial.”
Put together components that bespeak of a certain quite nobility, and you’ll get that.
*Indeed, the Super Bowl spot was actually an updated version of this YouTube video that was uploaded in 2011: