Bad Press: American Family Insurance – Son

Bad Press: They say there is no such thing as bad press. This is the place where we put that to the test. Commercials are a dying art-form. With less demand, the supply becomes uninspiring. This is the place where we overanalyze the commercials that irritate me.

In today’s number, we take a look at this gem from American Family Insurance.

“Sometimes our dreams find support in unexpected places.” For sure. And sometimes American Family sells insurance with an ad about a broken family. They might as well keep the ball rolling and hire Subway Jared to sell life insurance and let him film the commercials from his jail cell. Or make Am-Fam Insurance Fireworks and hire Jason Pierre-Paul as the spokesperson. But, I digress. In today’s edition of Bad Press, we have knock off Bryce Harper dreaming big in wanting to be a farmer in a different country. Dad hates it. Most kids grow up to be disappointments. Silent treatment on a farm is some next level torture.


Put this on the Christmas card. Capturing the exact moment his name gets scratched out of the will. Dad knows he’s going to have to sell the farm. He knows as soon as Bryce leaves town he’ll have to call his brother-in-law to ask if the job offer is still on the table. Even though the foundation of the family was built on being your own boss. He would swallow his pride for Margaret. So, in the moment, he resents Bryce. He must know the amount of strain he will be putting the family through. He must’ve known the family farm was going to be his soon. And he could farm with his sons, and on Sunday nights all the boys would drink lemonade on the porch while Grandpa told his stories. Instead, Bryce is throwing it all away to help the foreigners. “It’s all he’s ever wanted to do.”


Margaret gives Bryce a look. And waits for Dad to be out of the scene, then smiles and whispers ‘he doesn’t mean it.’ She knows Dad just needs some time to think. She walks around the table and rests her hand on Bryce’s shoulder. “Your dad and I just want you to be happy.” Bryce smiles as Margaret kisses him on the forehead. In the background, glass is being thrown across the room and then a bookshelf smashes to the floor. The yelling is loud, yet incoherent. Margaret mentions she has lost track of how many quarters Dad owes the ‘Swear Jar.’ They share a quick nervous laughter before more glass is broken. The family crib that has been in the family for five generations gets launched down the stairs.


The next Day, Dad still isn’t talking to Bryce. After an awkward breakfast where one chair was empty, Bryce and Dad alike both know there is still work to be done. Soon after the rooster crowed, Bryce mentions to Dad how ridiculous he is being. But Dad is no-nonsense. They will do their days’ work without snide remarks. For today, they were not father and son – only co-workers. Just as things couldn’t possibly get any worse, the tractor is broken as Bryce has his head, still, in the clouds. Dreaming about all the foreign soil which has yet to be seeded. Dad knows as soon as Bryce leaves there will be more days like this. The best course of action now is trying to guilt Bryce into staying. He looks on in horror, wearing his favorite American Family Insurance hat, an heirloom his dad gave to him on his deathbed.


Dad wants to know if Bryce has plans of ever coming home. This would probably only be temporary, right? But he knows he can’t ask. When your strategy is death by silent treatment, you stick to your guns. If it isn’t work talk, don’t bother. Dad lets him know he hasn’t left yet with one more awkward, silent car ride back home. And this is the first time Bryce believes his dad really may never speak to him again. They quietly drive past the spot where Dad taught Bryce how to throw a baseball. Bryce knows he can’t shed a tear in front of him.


Bryce will be leaving soon. He wants his Dad’s blessing, but he is done fighting for it. They have reached the point where they can agree to disagree about his future. Bryce wants to forge his own path, but Dad views it as a knock on the path he has already paved for him. Dad wants his legacy to continue through Bryce, but Bryce’s own legacy is calling him from across the pond. For the next week, they will grow in opposite directions and learn to resent each other. Heartbreaking. Such is the life on the farm.


The day has finally come. Bryce is off to be a humanitarian. As soon as the plane lands, he will realize the mistake he has made. He will soon discover there is nothing on his foreign farm he could not have grown to hate just as much in Iowa. Before that lesson can be hammered home, Bryce watches on as Margaret pleas with Dad to come say goodbye to his only son. “He says he will leave you a note later… And he also told me he loves you so much. I’m not even making up that last part.” Without Dad’s blessing, Bryce will never be able to focus on his farming. Now there would be two farms destined to fail. And one mother/wife stuck in the middle of it all. The stress would be too much for Margaret, and one day she would lose track of how many pills she took. Dad would later find her, cold on the kitchen floor. Eventually, Margaret would become the last vegetable left on the farm. A cruel world indeed, and Bryce and Dad sit on opposite sides of the aisle at her funeral. Neither has the courage to look at the other. Bryce’s now two-year old son asks his Dad who that is, pointing to the rugged man in his dirty AmFam hat. Bryce puts one finger over his mouth. “It’s not important.”


But just when you thought this story would have a sad ending, Dad finds a way to tug at our heartstrings. He fixed the tractor in time to give Bryce the note he had promised him. A simple word to pair with a not so simple message. ‘I apologize for being stubborn. You are my son. I love you no matter what you do, and support your choices even if I don’t agree with them. The O and D look very similar. Ignore that. It’s hard to make defining edges in an old worn-down tractor. Go get ‘em, son.’ And Bryce’s plane hits some turbulence, but he doesn’t mind. This is the first time he has felt at peace in weeks. Dad just ruined a plot of land, but he did it for him. And in 20 years, when Bryce’s son tells Bryce he is leaving Italy to go farm in America, Bryce will remember this moment fondly. And begin making plans to give his son a proper sendoff. First by making him feel terrible and ignoring him, but then by beginning work on a plot of land that Junior will be able to see when he flies over the farm on his way to America: ‘Orgoglioso.’


My theory about this commercial is the director grew up on a farm and left for Hollywood to be a hot-shot director, much to the dismay of his own father. But when Johnny Hotshot left, his Dad did not ruin the integrity of his farm to leave him a dumb note. Instead he left him a message more personal, something along the lines of “I have no son.” So, when he landed his dream job at American Family he already had the idea for a commercial ready. And when he found out his commercial was getting the green light, he called home to share the news with his family. “Mother I have excellent news to share with you and father.” A few moments of silence allowed Margaret to catch her breath and speak. “Your father passed away last night. And his last words were, ‘Make sure that bastard knows that leaving the farm is what killed me.’”



Forget everything I said about American Family Insurance. I understand now.


If there is a commercial you can’t stand, I want to hear about it. @InternTimByrne

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