Does This Farmers Insurance Ad Get Its Physics All Wrong?

Eggheads say yes, agency says no

In case you're laboring under the delusion that advertising is rocket science, a pair of physics teachers want to set you straight. The eggheads—Dale Basler and Rhett Allain, writing in Lab Out Loud and Wired, respectively—claim the physics are all wrong in this RPA ad for Farmers Insurance, which involves a barnyard animal being flung by a tornado toward someone's home.

     There does seem to be one clear mistake—the "s=185m/s" above the tree should probably read "s=185m," since that's meant to be a distance, not a velocity. But that's just a labeling goof. Basler and Allain say the calculated distances are wrong, too, and they expend significant brainpower in proving their point. This may seem frivolous, but I'm happy someone's doing it—perhaps our bovine bombs will hit their targets when we go to war with China, North Korea, Alaska or whoever. Except … oh no! Allain repeatedly calls the animal a pig, when it's clearly a cow. What a fool! Man, we are screwed in any war involving long-range animal rockets.

     Reached by telephone, reps at Farmers and RPA generally defended the ad. John Ingersoll, vp of advertising at the client, says the company consulted with a mathematician familiar with the "parabolic shooting of barnyard creatures" and stands by the drawing—saying there are many environmental variables that the critics aren't taking into account. (RPA creatives Pat Mendelson and Tom Hamling say they didn't want to clutter up the ad with all those variables.) Ingersoll adds with a laugh: "A very important point of clarification for the Wired article is that the animal with udders is a cow—pigs generally not having udders. I think it goes to the credibility of the entire process to have missed the type of creature." Oh, come on. Allain is a physicist, not some multi-brain supergenius who can tell barnyard animals apart just by looking at them. Anyway, Ingersoll is just happy the ad is having some sort of impact. "For an advertiser that probably for the first 80 years of our history has never had anyone notice any of our advertising, it's just great to be talked about," he says. 

     See the full ad, and three others (with much easier math), after the jump. —with Tim Nudd

     UPDATE: Allain replies on Twitter: