Monsanto “Begins with a Farmer-A mother’s love”

Following suit of the 2013 Dodge Ram “So God made a farmer” Super Bowl commercial, Monsanto produced a similarly themed advertisement for the 2014 Super Bowl, called “Begins with a Farmer—A mother’s love.” The advertisement opens with a split screen showing a house in Morris County, Kansas, on the left and a house in Denver, Colorado, on the right. As a voice over states that “96 percent of American farms are still family owned,” a standard day for the family that lives in each house unfolds, with matching or comparable actions for the farmer family and the suburban family. The last line of the voice over says, “Wherever your day takes you and however it ends, chances are, it began with a farmer,” functioning as intertextuality or media self-referentiality by triggering the memory of the previous year’s Dodge Ram advertisement, which concluded with, “To the famer in all of us.” Both advertisements encourage the consumer to relate an agrarian, American lifestyle, albeit in very different ways.

Barthes semiotic analysis of advertising can offer some insight into the ways in which the Monsanto advertisement achieves this goal of relating to that lifestyle. At the most basic level, the advertisement contains signifiers such as two houses, two children, two young men, two older women, two signs on doors with names on them, a sidewalk, a field, and more. From these signifiers, it can be interpreted that two families, one living on a farm and the other in the suburbs, are the signified. Barthes argues that there are chains of signification, which means that the signified become signifiers for a deeper meaning, or signified. Here the farmer and suburban families signify love, happiness, homegrown products, and more, which perpetuates certain ideologies.

Goldman and Papson can offer some insight into four ways that this Monsanto advertisement carries these certain ideologies through culture. First, the advertisement socially and culturally constructs a world in which America is not owned and run primarily by large corporations, but instead by mothers of ordinary families. Second, it disguises and suppresses inequalities by portraying farming families as exclusively Caucasian, and as wealthy as suburban families, which is often not the case. It is also contradictory to the reality where modern farmers do back breaking labor, day in and day out, in a very unglamorous fashion. Third, it promotes a normative vision of our world and our relationships by portraying only the white, middle-class, American, nuclear family. Finally, it reflects the logic of capital because it is sponsored by Monsanto, a multinational corporation that sells genetically engineered seeds and herbicides, among other things.

The critique of cultural cannibalism, where advertisements have become so rich in narrative that they have encroached on all aspects of culture, and even become culture themselves, is very relevant to this specific advertisement. The entire advertisement is about developing common ground between the “typical”, suburban, American family and the farmer family. While watching the advertisement for the first time, I found myself so caught up in the cleverly matched actions, that I started to forget to be critical of advertising and its primary function of selling products. What makes this advertisement really interesting is that the majority of viewers will probably never directly spend money on Monsanto products. However, if a consumer purchases goods farmed by families, or otherwise, who use Monsanto products, then he/she is indirectly supporting the company and the heartwarming lifestyle it fosters.

The creative revolution of the 1960s was marked by a shift in attitude, where viewers began to expect the people who made advertisements to share their values, which led to changes in the content and production of advertisements. I would argue that this advertisement is a product of that change in a subtle way. Although it does paint a very homogenous view of the world with a focus on the home and family, two values that are often considered to be of lesser importance today, it also appeals to consumers that are wary of large corporations and value local food products. It attempts to break down the walls of the establishment and build up a relatable lifestyle that most families already live by, that could simply be supported or enhanced by Monsanto.

While I really connected to the Dodge Ram “So God made a farmer” advertisement, I felt that this Monsanto variation of the same basic idea was far less successful. As a savvy consumer, I was unable to completely set aside the billion-dollar corporation’s sponsorship to buy into the overly happy-go-lucky mood of the advertisement.

-S.L.W.

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