John Deere’s Green Redemption

“What will you create?” is the tagline for this new John Deere campaign from GSD&M Idea City.

“Pulverized ankle” would be my best response, based on that unforgettable moment on a Mad Men episode last season, when at an office party, a drunken secretary accidentally plowed into the future president of Sterling Cooper while riding a John Deere lawn tractor around like it was a problem Toyota. The boss lost a foot. It was a dark look at the advertising industry and empty suits, because later his fellow British overlords decided that the poor guy would never work again — “because he can’t play golf.”

That was definitely not a product placement, and I’m sure John Deere would never knowingly sanction the notion of such reckless indoor mowing.

But with this campaign, which ran during the March Madness college basketball tournament, and was timed to match the first hint of spring, the brand has the chance to redeem itself.

And the work is indeed a brand renewal in the best sense: the spot called “Pearl” is unexpectedly green, inspiring and touching. It’s about a man named Pearl. (I guess he was part of a trend for baby boys back in the late 1930s who were given monikers like Meredith and Marion, which are now seen as female.)

A 70-year old South Carolinian, this guy has created a magical botanical garden out of a former cornfield. He’s a self-taught horticultural genius — as if Edward Scissorhands created a set for Alice in Wonderland. He’s shown cutting and riding his mower around his handiwork, all gorgeous lines and curves. “Anything you work at with a passion you’ll make a success at,” he says in a voiceover, with his distinctive Southern drawl.

Pearl’s also shown riding a John Deere mower over the acres of emerald grass that he has created, explaining that he put about “1200 hours” on his first John Deere, which is entirely believable. Documentary director Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys) shot the spot and it’s pitch perfect in documenting Pearl and his creation with a certain amount of reverence. He deserves it: he’s a garden god, and the cinematography and music are beautiful. Just as shows on the Food Network get viewers interested, not necessarily in cooking, but certainly in more cultivated eating, this visually dazzling campaign brings us a new level of lawn envy. Smartly and subtlety, it makes riding a John Deere mower seem like an environmental move for someone with a more advanced horticultural take on things, even if he only has a quarter-acre.

“Pearl, one of three profile spots (there is also an omnibus), is by far my favorite. It links all of creation to Pearl’s jewel of a front yard.

Who knew selling lawn mowers could be so beautiful? Or that god rides a John Deere?