The Ending of 84 Lumber’s Super Bowl Ad Is a Beautiful and Provocative Take on Immigration

Inside the strategy, and whether the company expects backlash

Maggie Hardy Magerko, owner and president of 84 Lumber, a little-known Pennsylvania-based building material supplier, has been called crazy for buying 90 seconds of airtime on the Super Bowl—a telecast that’s been commanding ad rates of over $5 million for 30 seconds.

Then she went and gave the ad a political theme. And not just any political theme. It’s about immigration, at a time when the issue couldn’t be more divisive.

Fox rejected its original script, so the company and its agency, Brunner in Pittsburgh, divided the piece into two parts. A 90-second section of the short film—a teaser, essentially—just aired on Super Bowl LI. The conclusion was posted to journey84.com.

And a remarkable conclusion it is. Watch it here:

The vision of the giant wall, which of course is not yet built; the American flag that the girl pieces together; the enormous doorway, which is what the workers were building; the onscreen line “The will to succeed will always be welcome here”—it all adds up to a very poetic pro-immigration statement of tolerance.

That message, of course, is one that will be embraced widely by many—and rejected angrily by others. And it will likely make Budweiser and Audi’s mild ad controversies over the past week pale in comparison.

In the run-up to the Super Bowl, Magerko said the ad shouldn’t be considered provocative at all. In fact, she says she voted for Donald Trump in the election, and the image of the door in the wall comes directly from Trump himself, who said he wanted a “big beautiful door” in his wall, for legal immigration. (See the video below.)

Speaking to Adweek, Brunner chief creative officer Rob Schapiro said his client “has never once wavered in [her] message. … For Maggie, it’s never been about the wall. It’s always been about the door in the wall.”

Still, the ad is likely to anger some right-wing observers, partly because the mother and child’s journey, as depicted in the spot, looks more like illegal immigration than legal immigration. With political tensions running high in the country, the company is likely to feel some heat from viewers. But Schapiro says they’re prepared for that.

“I think we’re all prepared for strong opinions from both sides of the aisle,” he said. “And that’s OK. Those differences are what make us and this country great. 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 at the Super Bowl?”

In terms of strategy, the ad is all about recruitment. Magerko’s company faces a labor shortage and the ad is designed to appeal to employees in their 20s “who really believe in American dreams,” she told The New York Times recently. Magerko said she has a welcoming attitude toward immigrants, while also having faith in politicians to “make the decisions to make us safe.”

“When the housing market crashed in the mid-2000s, the whole housing industry basically went dark,” Schapiro said by way of background. “Many companies were forced to consolidate or merge to get through it. But 84 Lumber stayed true to its core. When the housing market started to come back, so did they—2016 revenues were up 15 percent. Forbes named them to their list of best midsize employers. They’re planning to open 20 new stores. Now that the housing market has rebounded, they felt now was the time to go big and tell the world 84 Lumber and the housing industry is back … and they need dedicated, hard-working people to help them continue their growth.”

Relying on immigrant labor is part of 84 Lumber’s business, and Schapiro said it wouldn’t have made sense to ignore that.

“It seems like everything has become a political conversation, whether we want it to be or not,” he said. “And ignoring the conversation that’s taking place in the media and at every kitchen table in America just didn’t seem right. This election has divided the country in a hundred different ways. If 84 Lumber has a platform like the Super Bowl, they felt they had a responsibility to do more than create a commercial. They wanted to create something meaningful that would get people talking about the housing industry in a positive way again.”