Why Bayer made a country-music album with corn

Who: Bayer Crop Sciences, with McCann Calgary for strategy and creative; Grayson Music Group for audio; Weber Shandwick for PR.

What: “Roots Remastered,” a launch campaign for Bayer’s SmartStax PRO, built around a six-song country music album made, in part, with the sounds of healthy corn roots.

When & Where: The campaign launched Sept. 11, and is running until Nov. 24 with a focus on Ontario and Quebec. The album is on Spotify, supported by social videos, social posts, radio, digital audio, digital ads, print, OOH, a microsite, and PR. The cornerstone was a kick-off activation during the massive Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock, Ont. earlier this month.

Why: Corn rootworm is a big problem for farmers, made more stressful by the fact it attacks crops underground and is therefore tough to spot. SmartStax PRO is Bayer’s solution to the problem—RNAi technology that kills the pests.

“Because this was a product launch, [Bayer] wanted to do something disruptive in the category,” said Brian Allen, executive creative director at McCann Calgary.

The challenge for McCann was hot to show the benefits of a biotechnology that works underground.

“How do we get farmers to understand [the product benefit] since they can’t see the corn roots,” said Allen. “We were trying to explore other ways to show how this product works.”

The solution was to let farmers hear healthy roots rather than show them, with the country album featuring six songs made from corn.

How… corn makes music? Yeah, we should start there. The first step was a Grayson field trip to a corn field near Kitchener, where they captured a wide range of corn sounds—leaves rubbing together, wind though a field, corn stalks as percussion instruments etc.

But the real objective was to use Plantwave technology that captures the biorhythms of corn plants, graphs them as waves, and translates those waves into notes.

“It outputs it into seemingly pretty random synthetic sounds,” said Mark Domitric, one of the two music and sound directors from Grayson, along with Lowell Sostomi.

The biorhythms aren’t songs, but crude musical expressions of the plants’ biological vitality. Grayson and their composers took those musical expressions and turned them into songs.

“It’s kind of a meditative process,” said Domitric. “You just play it in the room, you pull out an instrument or you just listen, and you start trying to find music. It’s like, ‘okay, I found a melody’… you’d hear the notes oscillating and you’d realize ‘oh, there’s a chord progression. That’s C major to G to A minor—okay, that’s my chord structure.'”

They captured hours worth of sounds and music from their literal field trip. “We had six composers, writing six songs and I wanted them all to have a different inspirational swatch to base their music on,” said Domitric. “Every composer got a different set of biorhythm readings to listen to, because it would push everyone in a different direction.”

And healthy corn sounds different? The unhealthy plants sounded more “languid and dissonant,” said Domitric. “Whereas the plant that was healthy just kind of made more sense musically—it was just more pleasing for the ear.”

How (the launch): The end result was six different country songs with a distinctly corny theme: “Love Grows High” and “Can’t Uproot Me,” for example.

Because rootworm is such a stressful problem for farmers, McCann wanted the music to be upbeat, said Allen. “Making [the album] really celebratory was important… this music is from healthy corn root, and if you use this product you don’t need to worry about this pest ruining your livelihood, and that’s something to celebrate.”

They debuted the album at the Farm Show because it’s one of the biggest events for the industry. To follow the musical theme, there was a merch tent with T-shirts, vinyl records, stickers, koozies, and guitar packs. “There were a bunch of things, and farmers absolutely love swag,” said Allen.  

And we quote (about corn as a co-writer):  “We were all really geeking out about the process,” said Domitric. “This is a really different way to write… sometimes you write based on an idea or a reference, but this was the most unique reference we had and we were all really happy that we were able to make something  palatable and  fun out of it.”

David Brown