Ram's "Farmer" ad resonated with many Super Bowl viewers on Sunday but missed the mark with some Latino groups that criticized the commercial as a "white-washed" portrayal of a bygone era in America.
The two-minute Chrysler Group spot features a slideshow of mainly white American farmers and their families set to a recording of deceased radio personality Paul Harvey intoning a folksy paean to the ruggedness and determination of the American farmer.
"And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, 'I need a caretaker.' So God made a farmer," went the crackly recording, a speech Harvey made at a 1978 convention of what is now known as the National FFA (Future Farmers of America) Organization, a youth group dedicated to promoting agricultural education. "God said, 'I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the field, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.' So God made a farmer."
The commercial left some wondering: Where are all the Latinos?
"It's a white-washed ad," said Axel Caballero, founder of Cuéntame, a Latino nonprofit. "(The) composition of America has changed. The faster brands understand that, the better they're going to do."
In response, Cuéntame uploaded its remixed version of the Ram truck ad to its Facebook page, keeping the audio but replacing some of the photos with images of Latino farmworkers. Cuéntame's caption to the post read, " 'God made a farmer' ad - K, we fixed it!"
The video, which also includes a link to the LatinoRebels Facebook page, went viral on the social media network, generating 3.5 million extended network impressions, Caballero said. In the days following the tweaked video's release, users uploaded two more versions that similarly "fixed" the Ram ad with Latino farmworker imagery.
The number of U.S. farms peaked at 6.8 million in 1935. Today, there are more than 2 million American farms, of which about 180,000 account for more than 63 percent of all agricultural products sold, according to data from the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture.
As for the faces of farmers in America, 71 percent of agricultural workers in the U.S. were born in Mexico and Central America, according to a 2011 U.S. Department of Labor National Agricultural Workers Survey. Just 29 percent of U.S. farm workers were born in the USA and Puerto Rico.
"This is weird," said Julio Ricardo Varela, an NBC Latino contributor and founder of LatinoRebels.com, after he saw the commercial. In a column for NBC Latino, he wrote that "the reaction via the Latino social media space has been overwhelmingly negative for the simple reason that the commercial does not reflect the reality of the farming industry in the United States."
Chrysler, which manufactures the Ram, has declared 2013 "The Year of the Farmer" in a year-long initiative aimed at bringing national attention to the significance of the American farmer, the automaker said in a fact sheet emailed to TODAY. "The 'Farmer' video uses slices of farming life to remind us of our shared identity and character, the greatness born out of perseverance and determination, and the rewards that come from hard work."
The spot featured documentary photographs of real farmers the brand commissioned from 10 photographers, including William Albert Allard, noted for his National Geographic work, and Kurt Markus, who is celebrated for his images of cowboys.
The Ram truck is built in two plants, one in Warren, Mich., the other in Saltillo, Mexico. Italian automaker Fiat purchased Chrysler Group LLC in 2009 and owns a 58.5 percent share.
Chrysler Communications Manager Eileen Wunderlich said the carmaker is "getting all kinds of requests" about the Ram Super Bowl commercial, and one for Jeep that run during the game, but is "not making any comment whatsoever about the ad." She said the Ram brand makes a donation to the FFA for every YouTube view, download or share and "would like the video and the initiative behind it to speak for itself." The fundraising goal is $1 million to be used for the FFA's hunger relief efforts.
The FFA counts 560,000 members, serving both urban and rural communities, with chapters in 17 out of the 20 major U.S. cities, said Robert Cooper, executive director of the National FFA Foundation. The ad, which has over 6 million YouTube hits and continues to spread three days after the Super Bowl, has “really struck a chord with how important agriculture is in this country” across all sectors, he said.
That includes positive reactions from African-American and Latinos.
“No matter who you are, or where you work in the agricultural industry, this ad is about celebrating your contribution to America and that you are part of America’s number one employer,” said Cooper.