THE 84 LUMBER AD: AN EXERCISE IN PROPAGANDA AND MEDIA LITERACY
When I saw the 90-second commercial for 84 Lumber during the Super Bowl — the one depicting a brown-skinned Mexican mother and her little girl making the journey towards the US, I ain’t gonna lie, I teared up and was impressed with the generosity and risk taken on by the Pennsylvania-based building supply company. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0Uk6ctu7nI
But the next day, I watched the extended 84 Lumber commercial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPo2B-vjZ28) and wowee wow, I immediately felt that the commercial was a pro-Trump pro-wall piece of propaganda and yet I was still really impressed… for gross reasons.
Super Bowl ads don’t just materialize out of thin air, and certainly not $15M ads starring brown-skinned Latinos speaking IN SPANISH. This was an incredibly well-thought out ad — the way it was made, the way the story was piecemeal’d out (“our uncut version was censored by Fox News!”)… was that“controversy” part of their marketing plan?
Not only does the ad play on the desire for Latinos, POC, and women to see authentic representation on screen, but it also plays to non-POC liberals who advocate for more inclusive media representations. The 84 Lumber commercial even has the potential to bring in blue-collar conservatives and those favoring both The Wall and legal immigration.
Upon seeing 84 Lumber’s original 90-second ad (called, “The Journey Begins”), many people in my social media circles, myself included, felt moved — some posted that they had started following 84 Lumber’s accounts and vowed publicly to support their company.
But I began to ask myself… why would 84 Lumber create an ad including Mexican immigrants? How does that benefit them?
84 LUMBER’S ANSWER: They want to grow their name recognition, build pride in their company, and recruit up to 400 jobs.
A $15 million dollar ad to recruit up to 400 jobs? That didn’t make sense (or “cents”) to me. So I looked into the extended ad.
In it, The Wall is being built as the Mexican mother and child (simultaneously, shown in cross cuts) make their journey… and who do you think wants to supply the building materials for that wall?
Are these ads just Part I of bringing 84 Lumber into viewers’ good graces… so that when they help build Trump’s Wall, US Citizens will feel like the project is okay and in humane hands?
Is it possible 84 Lumber has already been promised the Trump administration’s building supply contract and all they have to do is help humanize The Wall?
While this may seem like a bit of a logic leap, hear me out.
According to the New York Times, Maggie Hardy Magerko, owner of 84 Lumber, voted for Trump. She is also a billionaire. Both she and her father (Joseph A. Hardy III, Founder of 84 Lumber) have been long-time republican contributors. And it’s plain to see that Trump likes to hire friends and financial supporters.
Another possibility is that 84 Lumber is on the edge of getting the contract to help build The Wall and Trump is reality tv-ing Maggie and other building supply companies — trying to find the “best” bidder for this contract and future contract — and this ad is 84 Lumber’s way of demonstrating loyalty to Trump’s agenda.
I also noticed an additional curiosity in the extended ad — the workers shown building The Wall in are mostly POC. The foreman, of course, looks Caucasian.
People of color don’t just magically appear in media — when you do a casting call, you either state the race/ethnicity of the actors you want or if you state none you (usually) end up with the default “color” — white.
So why choose POC to be the wall-builders and not a bunch white Marlboro Men?
It *could* be to push forward the case of Mexico paying for the wall — and helping to build it. Showing people of color as the construction workers leaves “regular Americans” out of that potential “wall-building unpleasantness” and could perhaps lead the way for The Wall to be built cheaper with immigrant labor (or the labor of American POC who are generally paid less than white Americans). After all, most POC live in urban hell-scapes, and according to Trump, have very few prospects!
And as a bonus, construction of The Wall has built in photo ops.
Just imagine Trump toddling down to the construction site in Texas. First, he’ll eat a muy authentic taco bowl. Afterwards, he’ll snap some primo pics with foreign workers and POC, immediately demonstrating that he’s made jobs for “the ethnics,” the poor, and the forgotten. Eternal images of Trump’s benevolence and awesomeness — cameras don’t lie!
But allow me mosey back to why I wrote this essay and hit you with my wrap-up.
This 84 Lumber ad has been quite the exercise for me in media literacy. I loved it at first and now I hate it with the intensity of seven suns.
So if you do nothing else, when you watch ads and potential administration propaganda, remember your feelings (feelings are okay yet can be manipulated!) and also think about what the originating company has to gain from the ad — usually what they really care about is their bottom line — money.
Think about who benefits from the ad. Think about why they chose the elements of the storyline they did. Think about why they hired those specific actors. And think about who the media is meant for.
If something feels fishy, ask questions, poke around. See what you find.
Propagandists might want us to swallow whatever shiny bauble they’re dishing out, but in the end, it is up to us to think about the story’s origins and decide if it’s healthy consumption… or something potentially more sinister.