84 Lumber’s Super Bowl Ad Stirs Immigration Debate
When word spread in January that 84 Lumber, a Pennsylvania-based chain of lumberyards and home improvement stores, had bought ad time during the Super Bowl, the buzz within the industry was that the company was using the ad space to promote job openings. The lumber and building materials chain had 20 new stores opening in new markets and wanted national exposure.
Weeks before Super Bowl LI, after its initial ad was rejected, buzz about 84 Lumber and its message spread throughout the national media—effectively generating far more attention for the company than a typical Super Bowl ad. The conversation about the ad, along with analysis and speculation about the company’s intentions, made it part of a national conversation.
In case you missed it, here’s what happened: In mid-January, the 90-second ad spot that 84 Lumber submitted to the Fox Network to air during the Super Bowl was rejected. Network officials said that the ad was too controversial because it featured a wall along the U.S. Mexico border that was sure to rile up emotions in an already tense political climate. Fox’s advertising guidelines say it will not air ads “for viewpoint or advocacy of controversial issues,” in this case referring to President Trump’s executive order calling for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. So 84 Lumber, and Pittsburg-based Brunner, its creative agency, were sent back to the drawing board.
With or with out a depiction of a border wall, 84 Lumber’s director of marketing, Amy Smiley, said the message was clear that 84 Lumber was hiring.
“Now that the housing market is rebounding, we felt it was the right time to go big and tell the world we’re back—this is who we are and we need more people to join us,” Smiley said. “And if you want to make sure everyone’s thinking about the housing industry and talking about your company, what better way to do that than to do it at the Super Bowl?”
2016 had been a good year for 84 Lumber, Smiley said, and projections for 2017 were even better. “Revenues were up almost 15% and Forbes named us to their list of Best Mid-Size employers. 2017 was shaping up to be even better. We’re expanding into new markets, hiring new people, and growing across all of our business lines,” she said.
With growth on the horizon and a need to spread the word that anyone with grit and determination had a place at 84 Lumber, the company decided to air part of the ad in its already-paid-for 90 second spot, and at the end of that ad, direct viewers to a custom website developed to show the original ad in its entirety.
Plenty of people followed that direction. More than 2 million internet users visited Journey84.com on Super Bowl Sunday. The company’s main website, 84Lumber.com, saw 15 times more visitors over average website traffic, resulting in 500,000 views of the company’s homepage.
It doesn’t end there. During and since the Super Bowl, there have been approximately 15 million combined views of the revised and original full length commercial on YouTube. From a social media perspective, 84 Lumber maintained the top trending video on YouTube through Super Bowl Sunday and the following Monday. On Tuesday, it was still in the top 20 videos on YouTube. The commercial trended on Twitter during Super Bowl Sunday, and more than 1,200 real-time social media responses were activated to address feedback to the commercial.
The Super Bowl ad indeed drew attention to 84 Lumber. While some praised the company for bringing to light the issue of immigration and opportunity, others lambasted the company as advocates of illegal immigration, something that Smiley and others at 84 Lumber have denied.
“[The ad] isn’t about my beliefs, who I voted for, or the wall,” 84 Lumber CEO Maggie Hardy Magerko told the Washington Post after the Super Bowl. “It’s about highlighting the characteristics of a person that will go to great lengths for a new opportunity.”
Nonetheless, 84 Lumber received its share of criticism. A LBM industry influencer, who asked to remain anonymous, said in an email to LBM Journal, “So, the real hang-up is that people can’t decide if 84 is promoting illegal or legal immigration. Maggie artfully dances around that when she is interviewed… Out of her 250 stores, what do her employees think? I bet that she has plenty of employees who legally came to the U.S. … What do they think about their company welcoming people to circumvent the system to potentially take their jobs? I find it hard to believe that 84 Lumber truly has enough employment vacancies to warrant a full-on nationwide employment campaign. The recovery just isn’t that amazing.”
Much like the rest of the Internet, LBM Journal’s own readers didn’t see eye-to-eye. On the LBM Journal LinkedIn group, a reader said, “I think it was a powerful message that I don’t think FOX had the right to not air the entire piece for what someone deemed controversial. However, I am not sure what 84 Lumber was trying to gain from this ad. It was creative and well done but does it make me want to buy from 84 as a homeowner or contractor? Do I say to myself 84 Lumber is a place I want to work because they are opposed to border issues or immigration restrictions? 84 Lumber is a very good company that needs greater brand awareness and focus on their brand differentiation. I am not convinced this commercial did that for them.”
[The ad] isn’t about my beliefs, who I voted for, or the wall. It’s about highlighting the characteristics of a person that will go to great lengths for a new opportunity.
– Maggie Hardy Magerko, 84 Lumber CEO
According to Ad Age, a 30-second Super Bowl spot is estimated to cost $5 million, so 84 Lumber’s 90-second video is a major play for the building supply company, which had sales of around $2.5 billion in 2015. That year, 84 Lumber spent a total of $775,000 on measured media.
Controversy aside, Smiley said that 84 Lumber is proud to have run the ad. “At the end of the day, this is a land of hope and opportunity for everyone and that goes for all people, no matter who you are, what you believe, or where you’re from. And in this country, that should never be a controversial message,” Smiley said. “If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, work hard and do the job that needs to be done, then 84 Lumber’s doors are open to you. It shouldn’t matter what color you are or where you come from. Because this industry needs more people like that, not less.”