A screenshot of the rejected 90-second Super Bowl spot for 84 Lumber, created by the Pittsburgh-based agency Brunner.
Screen grab from the 84 Lumber Super Bowl Commercial - The Entire Journey
The rejected 90-second Super Bowl spot for 84 Lumber, created by the Pittsburgh-based agency Brunner, included images of immigrants unable to cross the border due to a wall. Fox approved a new version, which aired before halftime.
By Tim Grant / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A day after the Super Bowl, it was clear that building supply company 84 Lumber was successful in starting a conversation with its ad depicting a Mexican mother and her daughter on a harsh journey to flee their homeland for a better life in the United States.
The spot inspired both praise and sharp criticism from viewers who recognized the political reference to President Donald Trump’s stance on immigration and his campaign promise to build a border wall between Mexico and the U.S.
“Thank you for sharing your views supporting illegal immigration and letting patriots know to stay away from your stores,” said one poster on Facebook.
“84 Lumber just boosted sales for Home Depot and Lowes,” another wrote. “How cool is that?!”
Another commenter wrote: “The advertisers are free to take political positions, but there is no upside. No matter what position they embrace, they are still going to alienate a significant portion of their customer base.”
The 90-second ad initially had been rejected by Fox Sports for being too political in nature to air during the big football game.
The Washington County construction supply company resubmitted a revised commercial, which met the network’s standards, but it posted the full original version on the company’s website with a disclaimer that the ad “contains content deemed too controversial for TV.”
A news release that the company posted Sunday noted that the full version ends with a door in a border wall that allows the mother and daughter to pass through. “This door is a symbol of the doors that 84 Lumber opens for its employees, regardless of their race, ethnicity, background, or orientation,” the company statement said.
Mr. Trump said his proposed wall should contain a door, according to the company.
“Even President Trump has said there should be a ‘big beautiful door in the wall so that people can come into this country legally,’ ” 84 Lumber president and owner Maggie Hardy Magerko said in the announcement.
“It’s not about the wall. It’s about the door in the wall. If people are willing to work hard and make this country better, that door should be open to them.”
Steve Radick, an executive at Brunner, the Downtown-based ad agency that worked with 84 Lumber to create the commercial, said the agency spent much of Monday getting crushed by media inquires across the nation in response to mixed feelings about the ad.
But he said they were prepared for it. They anticipated it would bring out strong reactions from both sides of the aisle.
“If you are going to create a really impactful ad, it’s not going to resonate with everyone the same way,” Mr. Radick said. “If you try to please everyone, you won’t please anyone.”
The building supply company appears to have spent a considerable amount of time Monday on Twitter responding to people who interpreted the ad to mean 84 Lumber condones illegal immigrants crossing the border into the U.S.
“We don’t condone illegal immigration,” 84 Lumber said in one tweet. “Our story is a symbolic celebration of a journey that ends with becoming legal U.S. citizens.”
In response to another tweet, the company wrote: “We employ skilled labor both full time and through subcontract trade partners. These individuals are not cheap nor illegal.”
One Twitter user who threatened to quit using 84 Lumber products due to its views on Mexican immigrants led the company to respond: “84 Lumber is better when we look beyond stereotypes. If that changes your view of our products and services, that’s your right.”
The ad cost an estimated $15 million to air. At the end of the full version, as the mother and daughter walk through the door into bright sunlight, a tagline reads: “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”
Ms. Magerko has been quoted in The New York Times as saying she voted for Mr. Trump. Her company in the past also has been friendly to Republican causes.
Mr. Radick said everyone on the 84 Lumber and Brunner team felt strongly about the message of equal opportunity for everyone and the power of hard work and determination.
“These are some of the characteristics we look for in 84 Lumber employees,” he said. “84 Lumber wishes everyone saw the message in the same way we did, which was a message that America is the land of hope and opportunity and we think 84 Lumber is the company of opportunity.
“But we respect people having their opinions and that’s OK.”
Mike Walsh, an assistant professor of marketing at West Virginia University, noted a number of ads shown during the Super Bowl had very diverse multi-cultural casts and in some cases they identified with a political message.
For example, he said, the main character in a commercial that Pittsburgh health system UPMC aired locally during the Super Bowl appears to be Hispanic.
“I think there’s more sensitivity that there’s a diverse audience and marketers are trying to appeal to that,” Mr. Walsh said. “Most people who advertise during the Super Bowl try to promote their brand. They are not trying to sell a specific product.
“I thought the 84 Lumber ad was gutsy on their part for a company that doesn’t do a lot of traditional advertising. They could have been short-term focused. This was a long-term strategy trying to make the 84 Lumber brand stand for something.”
Tim Grant: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1591.
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