Amid the tantrum-throwing goats and lovelorn M&Ms that populated this year’s Super Bowl commercials, the spot that stood out the most was probably the most simple. Dodge Ram’s “So God Made a Farmer” commercial featured nothing more than a slideshow of stunning still images accompanied by a 1978 speech by Paul Harvey in which the radio personality paid tribute to America’s farmers.
“And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, I need a caretaker,” Harvey says in the opening. “So God made a farmer.” (Read the full text of the speech here.)
The unassuming ad stood in stark contrast to the loud, silly and effects-laden spectacles that have come to define Super Bowl spots in recent memory, but reactions to the commercial, on Twitter and elsewhere, were perhaps equally intriguing. To call them mixed would be an understatement; they were downright polarized.
While the commercial’s undeniable earnestness earned its share of praise across the Twitterverse, the spot was just as likely to be derided and mocked. Here is just a sample of the sarcasm and cynicism the ad attracted:
@BillCorbett: “’God made a farmer’ = GIANT eff you to hunter-gatherers everywhere.”
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@djhoch: “Atheists should take out a ‘There’s no god’ SB spot. Imagine the outcry.”
@exZACHlythat: “Everyone with a thick country accent in my class is j---ing themselves over the Paul Harvey God made a farmer commercial.”
@CJenney33: “Alright God made a farmer, I get it everyone. He made a lot more important people too so get over yourselves.”
@IamEvilTebow: “That Dodge Ram Truck commercial makes me never wanna be a farmer.”
So have Americans just become so cynical that they’re unable to appreciate an earnest tribute to the most vital profession since the dawn of agriculture? Not necessarily, say experts in Twitter analytics.
“One of the things we find with Twitter is there is a real premium on snark,” said Jonathan Taplin, director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab. “Sarcastic tweets tend to get re-tweeted the most, and people know that. There are people who are basically just there to be sarcastic.”
Taplin should know. He studied public sentiment on Twitter throughout the entire 2012 presidential campaign as part of the Annenberg Lab’s “Twitter Sentiment Analysis” project. What he found was that, when Twitter activity spikes around a certain event -- say, Clint Eastwood’s empty chair stunt at the Republican National Convention -- tweets related to that event reflect the basic liberal/conservative political divide in this country. But premeditated sarcasm throws a wrench in the works, skewing honest expressions of sentiment with tweets whose sole purpose is to get a laugh -- and maybe a few more followers on Twitter.
“We counted three or four million sarcastic tweets around the election,” Taplin said. “So it’s unclear how accurate a reflection of public sentiment it really is.”
Across the blogosphere, Dodge’s “God Made a Farmer” spot attracted more nuanced -- and generally more politically predictable -- responses. The Blaze’s Jonathon M. Seidl called it a “touching … rousing tribute,” whereas Slate’s David Haglund criticized it for borrowing heavily from a viral YouTube video produced by Farms.com. (Slate’s original article had implied that Dodge stole the idea, but it has since been revealed that the National FFA Foundation cooperated with Ram Trucks on the Super Bowl ad. Slate’s article has been updated to reflect the corrected information.)
It’s unclear how the idea to create the ad was developed. The Richards Group, the ad agency that created the spot, declined to discuss its inception, instead referring IBTimes to Chrysler Group, which manufactures the Dodge Ram. Chrysler has not yet responded to a request for comment.
As for Taplin’s own reaction to the commercial, he said he thought the spot was “very well done on an aesthetic level.” However, whether or not the audience will respond positively to the Dodge Ram brand in connection with the tone poem is still an open question.
“I was watching it with some friends who got really disappointed when the Dodge logo came on,” Taplin said. “They were like, ‘Oh, man, they ruined it.'”