Lumber company’s Super Bowl ad draws attention to tiny Pennsylvania town
All it took was a few minutes of lush, expensive, emotional advertising during the Super Bowl to pull this little town in the far southwestern corner of Pennsylvania into the centre of the national debate on immigration.
Despite the rancour surrounding the issue and the sudden attention to their hometown, many people here said that they did not see the now-famous 84 Lumber ad as particularly political.
“It was sad,” said Jennie Ryan, 28, a nurse from nearby Washington, Penn., who stopped for lunch at the SpringHouse restaurant, a wood-panelled café that sits on a working dairy farm. “It showed the struggles that other people experience who are not from here.”
Many viewed the Super Bowl ad — a tale of a mother and daughter travelling through Mexico on their way to the U.S. border — as unambiguously pro-immigration amid many far more traditional ads selling wares and brand names. And it came as something of a surprise, in part, because it was promoting a little-known company that apparently was wading into the raging debate on television’s largest stage: 84 Lumber.
The homebuilding supply company that carries the town’s name is headquartered here, in a county that voted 61 per cent for President Donald Trump; it is run by a chief executive, Maggie Hardy Magerko, who has said she voted for him. But many took the message as criticizing Trump’s immigration platform.
In the original cut, the mother and daughter arrive at the U.S. border and confront an imposing wall, suggestive of the one the president has proposed in an effort to keep illegal migrants from crossing into the country. It seems a heartbreaking end to a hopeful journey, until they discover a door that opens with a push onto a sunlit and welcoming America.
“The will to succeed is always welcome here,” reads a tag line.
Fox, the network that broadcast the Super Bowl, rejected 84 Lumber’s original version of the ad, refusing to let them show the wall.
“Of course we were disappointed,” said Amy Smiley, 84 Lumber’s director of marketing. “But ultimately, it’s their network and their decision.”
That rejection prompted the company to send viewers to the 84 Lumber website to see the full version. So many people wanted to view it that the company’s website crashed Sunday night.
“We knew it was a topic of conversation when we were conceptualizing last year,” said Steve Radick, vice-president and director of public relations at Brunner, the agency that created the ad. “What we did not know was that it would be the topic of conversation.”
While some have criticized the ad as advocating illegal immigration, the overwhelming response was supportive. Radick said the commercial was not a direct response to the current debate about immigration and refugees that has been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign for the White House and the first days of his presidency. But, Radick said, the clear aim was to take a stand.
“When you are doing a big advertising campaign, especially Super Bowl advertising, you can’t just be talking about your company,” he said. “You have to make sure you’re reflecting what is going on in the world today, and immigration is a big part of that, especially in the housing industry.”
Like so many eruptions of controversy and anger that rage on social media and cable news, 84 Lumber’s ad registered as a minor, though widely seen, political oddity amid far more tangible problems and a new president working speedily — for better or for worse — to address them.
Residents here in Eighty Four, reluctant to think ill of the company known locally as a good employer and corporate citizen, filled in what felt to them like an ambiguous scene with their own views on immigration and the American dream.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigration advocacy organization, said the outpouring of support for the ad reflects the complex view Americans have about immigration.
The headquarters of 84 Lumber in Eighty Four, Pa.