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84 Lumber’s Risky Play for Super Bowl Sunday

Jan 26, 2017
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SMITH BRAIN TRUST – A U.S.-Mexican border wall: President Donald Trump says he is ready to build one. And 84 Lumber wants to attach one to its brand, starting Super Bowl Sunday.

Both have their critics.

The Fox Network rejected a proposed Super Bowl commercial from the Pennsylvania-based construction supplier, saying its depiction of a border wall that blocks people from looking for work in the United States was "too political." But that hasn't deterred 84 Lumber, at least not entirely. 

The company reportedly plans to post the controversial, nixed commercial online while Fox broadcasts a "no-wall" version of the advertisement just before halftime of the Feb. 5 Patriots-Falcons clash.

With plans to expand into Western states, 84 Lumber says its $15-million, 90-second, in-game spot and its online companion mark the launch of a management recruitment drive. The Super Bowl typically draws more than 100 million viewers.  

With its ad, 84 Lumber may be emulating Trump's "America first" sloganeering, says marketing professor Henry C. Boyd III at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. But that's a "dangerous game," Boyd says, in the current highly charged, deeply divided political environment. "Blowback can start with negative chatter at the water cooler and mount to product-buyer boycotting of a company that's weathered the Great Recession and housing-market crash to generate $2.5 billion from sales in 2015," he says.

Patriotism can be done, and done effectively, but it's best executed in a way that feels inclusive, not divisive, to reach a wider consumer base. Chrysler's 2012 "It's Halftime in America" Super Bowl ad featuring Clint Eastwood exemplifies this, Boyd says. As does an earlier smaller-run campaign from 84 Lumber, the 2013 "We Build American" campaign. 

By contrast, Boyd says, the border wall symbolizes an issue that has evoked very different responses across the political spectrum. "From the standpoint of business, you can be thought-provoking and edgy, but the stakes are different and give more reason to stay within safer confines."

In rejecting the "border-wall" ad, Fox is reminding the family-owned construction supplies company based in Eighty-Four, Penn., of the virtue of avoiding religion and politics when making an introduction, a sort of pillar of etiquette 101. It's a little-known, but not-uncommon practice for the Super Bowl's network to request that sponsors edit their ad concepts before the big game. And it's not uncommon for advertisers to push the envelope a bit with their concepts, as a way of eking some added publicity out of that expensive ad buy. 

"Curious viewers will go online to see the depiction of a border wall to block immigrants," Boyd says. "It will burn in their minds. Some will be agreeable. But I believe political correctness is still out there and many will say, 'That's just wrong.' "   

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.