Heady Billboards

Free caps for farmers mean free advertising for favored products.

| March/April 2008

Illustrations by Brian Orr

When’s the last time you saw a farmer who wasn’t wearing a baseball-style cap of some sort? I mean other than in church or at his own funeral?


That’s right, the correct answer is “Practically never.” By my calculations, every one of the 2.13 million farmers in the country has between six and 60 of those free “gimme” caps at home. Let’s see, that adds up to … oh, about 12 bazillion lids piled up in rural America’s back closets and mudroom shelves.


Every truck and tractor manufacturer, every seed and feed brand, every small-town grain elevator and farmer’s cooperative hands out free caps to farmers the way mothers hand out cookies after school. I figure that farmers, truckers and the guys who mow the lawn at the town park have probably been wearing gimme caps for a couple thousand years now. In fact, legend has it that the first gimme caps were given away by a Roman chariot manufacturer. “Hey, Gaius, cool cap. How many miles to the bale you get with that beauty?”


It’s true that gimme caps provide eye-catching, cost-effective advertising for the companies that distribute them and much-needed protection from the sun for the wearers. But a farmer’s favorite cap can also tell you something about his personality. You probably know someone who fits each of these types.


Status symbol caps. The John Deere and Case-IH brands are to farmers what the Cadillac Escalade and Mercedes-Benz names are to urban cowboys and automobile aficionados. A farmer wearing a green John Deere cap is saying, “Yep, I paid $125,000 for my tractor, and they tossed in the cap for free. Bet you wish you had one.”


Seed company caps. A farmer won’t wear just any old seed company cap. If he’s wearing a gimme cap bearing the name of “Brand X Corn Hybrids,” you can bet the farm that’s what’s growing on his place. He plants that particular hybrid for one of three reasons: because he honestly believes he gets a better stand and a bigger yield with that company’s genetics; it’s cheaper than Brand A; or it was his wife’s idea because his brother-in-law is a dealer.

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