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Best of NAMA 2020

by the Agri Marketing staff

Just ask Syngenta Crop Protection and its agency Bader Rutter & Associates. The two scored a body slam for Touchdown herbicide with IQ Technology in a TV commercial airing across soybean, corn and cotton geographies. The 30-second spot features Rulon Gardner, the Olympic gold medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling from the 2000 Sydney Games.

Gardner, a virtual unknown sports figure prior to his Olympic victory, accomplished what has been called one of the greatest upsets in the 2000 Summer Olympics and in international wrestling history. The 29-year-old underdog’s stunning victory over Alexander Karelin - the Siberian Bear - in the heavyweight division launched him into national fame. His improbable victory came against the Russian, who was working on a 13-year unbeaten streak with three Olympic gold medals already in his possession.


Syngenta’s Touchdown herbicide is well-acquainted with the task of taking on a giant competitor as this product begins its fourth year of battling the No. 1 selling crop protection product on the planet, Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

Bill Beutke, non-selective herbicides brand manager for Syngenta, is excited about all-new Touchdown herbicide with IQ Technology. "Touchdown is a new, innovative glyphosate molecule - diammonium glyphosate - combined with a unique balanced adjuvant delivery system called IQ Technology," Beutke explains. "It delivers excellent crop safety in over-the-top applications on Roundup Ready corn, cotton and soybeans. This season we are asking growers to compare new Touchdown against Roundup, with a call to action of ‘Take The Touchdown Challenge.’"

It was Beutke who first suggested that Gardner might be able to carry the Touchdown Challenge for Syngenta.

David Pinon, Touchdown communications manager, explains further: "Rulon was raised on a dairy farm in Wyoming and is proud of his farm heritage. Because of his victory over the ‘unbeatable’ champion in the Olympics, the media paid some attention to his farm roots and regimen of hard work on the farm. Rulon took on the challenge of Karelin, did his homework and found a smarter way to win. Now he’s asking growers to take the Touchdown Challenge."


"We all had a few things to learn about the Olympics and some of its marketing limitations," notes Tom Tiedemann, account group supervisor at Bader Rutter & Associates, Brookfield, Wis. "There were plans to utilize TV footage of Rulon’s championship match with the Russian, but we were quickly informed that only official Olympic sponsors are permitted to do so."

Bader Rutter’s Associate Creative Director Bob Shriner concepted the commercial along with writer Karen Larson. "We needed the wrestling context in order to remind growers who Rulon Gardner is, so we recreated the wrestling footage with a look-alike playing the Russian," Shriner says. "The actor is a Chicago cop who will never earn his acting fees more than he did in this spot."

On Jan. 18, 2001, the wrestling sequences were filmed in the gym at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee with the wrestling coach serving as technical adviser to the production. Many of the "extras" in the cheering crowd were students from the school’s wrestling team. When the takes were wrapped up in late morning, Gardner cheerfully signed autographs and posed for photos with several team members and the general student body.

The on-farm scenes were done the same afternoon in a 105-year-old barn in Mequon, Wis., just north of Milwaukee. Temperatures were dropping throughout the day. Even though Tri-Marq Communications, the production company, brought a number of gas-powered heaters into the barn - those same sideline heaters you see the visiting teams crowded around at Lambeau Field (home of the Green Bay Packers) - a small problem developed with "seeing" Gardner’s breath while filming in the barn. Experienced director Jim Culhane of Tri-Marq had the answer, having run into this problem in the past. He had Gardner hold ice cubes in his mouth just prior to delivering his lines.


Pinon notes the Rulon Gardner TV spot has been a big hit with the field sales force. "We’re integrating Rulon into our Touchdown campaign by having him appear in the Syngenta booth at both the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville and the Commodity Classic in San Antonio. Growers can have instant photos taken with Rulon, and we expect his appearance to be a major hit at these shows."

Tiedemann says Rulon is a pleasure to be around. "It was a treat to watch him interact with the high school kids and others he encountered throughout his time in Milwaukee. His personality will charm crowds at the trade shows."


Gardner grew up on a 160-acre dairy farm just outside Afton, Wyo. His parents, Reed and Virginia Gardner, rented an additional 200 acres, milked 60 Holsteins and raised alfalfa, barley and oats. Today, Rulon’s oldest brother, Rollon, runs the farm. Rulon is the youngest of nine children.

Rulon and his wife, Stacy, still work in the operation. The couple also owns a home in Colorado Springs near the champ’s training headquarters. "My rural roots taught me responsibility and dedication to getting the job done," Gardner says. "I learned what it took to maintain a good, solid work ethic and give 100 percent every day, regardless of the task or challenge that I faced."

And now in his star presenter role for Touchdown, Gardner is bringing his 290 pounds and indomitable spirit to bear for Syngenta in the protracted battle for market share. Asked about his Olympic victory, he shrugs his bullish shoulders and smiles modestly. "I had a plan to win, I followed that plan and won. It was a great feat and something that I hope will allow me to be a good role model." AM

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