Lum­ber com­pany’s Su­per Bowl ad draws at­ten­tion to tiny Penn­syl­va­nia town

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - SAND­HYA SOMASHEKHAR AND TER­ENCE SAMUEL Wash­ing­ton Post

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.

JEFF SWENSEN, FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The head­quar­ters of 84 Lum­ber in Eighty Four, Pa.

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