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Admittedly, I am not a farmer. Beyond the occasional elementary school field trip, I had never spent any time on one. But agribusiness titan Monsanto were looking for an agency to inject some “Built Ford Tough” grit into their near-century-old seed brand.

A quick tour of their competitors’ advertising was a symposium of “more of the same”. Everything was tables, graphs and testimonials. And while, yes, performance data is a key factor in business decisions, the Dekalb brand was doing nothing to assert their deserved position at the top of the heap.

Enjoying the finest bloomin’ onion that the Mason City, IA Applebee’s had on offer after a day of focus groups, I recalled a turn of phrase that I had heard separately from several of our guests. “That’s why I go with Dekalb.” “I’ll probably go with Dekalb.” “The guy across the fence always goes with Dekalb.”

Shooting on an actual farm with an actual farmer in 97o August heat provided some interesting challenges, notably that I insisted on shooting on 16mm film to give the visual some extra rough and tumble. Celluloid generally isn’t too cheery about these sorts of conditions, but it created an effect that would have looked cheap done in post.

Also, farmers generally aren’t actors and actors generally aren’t farmers. Oh - and I found out that morning at 4:30 am as we were setting up for the clichéd-but-vital “sun over the horizon” shot that I was apparently also the director.

Print kept our team extremely busy, as our production department needed to customize headlines and body copy for extremely localized results... and print outlets like “The East Tecumseh Dairy Farmer Weekly” didn’t always know what “that petey f file thing” was.

However, with their 100th birthday approaching, we wanted to expand our messaging beyond, “Hey, you, do this.” We turned an intern loose on eBay to get us a virtual treasure trove of vintage hat pins, tchotchkes and promotional items. Contrary to what the stereotype of rural America might make you think, farmers are businessmen and they do an extensive amount of research online. Our display advertising boasted a sizable click-through rate.

And though the brand preferred to position themselves as forward-thinking and technological, we loaded the retro train up with coal to celebrate their first hundred years in business. As a side note, the Library of Congress archive pages are great for free stock footage sometimes (I do apologize for the antiquated 4:3 format, that’s archival footage for you).