Last night at some point I went onto Facebook to see people raving about an ad for 84 Lumber that caught everyone’s attention.

I’m a big proponent of advertising that’s different, and this one was. It was beautifully shot, directed, acted, and scored–it was an Oscar contender.

But … it was a cliffhanger. You had to visit the 84 Lumber website to see how the story ends. Only, the site crashed due to traffic.

Do you mean to tell me the marketing geniuses at 84 Lumber didn’t plan on people flooding their website after they ran an ad for $10 million dollars (not counting the creative development and production)?

Anyway, despite the beautiful :60 narrative, I thought the ad failed. As an ad, I mean. No, I didn’t bother to continue refreshing the site to see the “end of the story” because I was watching the biggest football game of the year (and what a game!). I imagined that most people felt similarly. I mean, it’s an ad, after all, and we have very short attention spans.

My cynicism was met with ire on the Facebook, mostly by women who said that they believed this ad was magical–despite not seeing the ending. One friend even went so far as to say she thought that this ad would change the fortune of 84 Lumber as a minor player in the home improvement sector, to competing with Home Depot and Lowes.

When I was a boy, 84 Lumber was the only game in town. They used to have free hot dogs and balloons once a month on Saturday when my father would schlep us there for lunch and to (fake) browse the aisles. We’d never buy anything, but it was always a neat event. Then, sometime in the 80s, the behemoths came online and turned 84 Lumber into a niche shop for carpenters and builders.

Last night was a signal that 84 Lumber not only is alive and kicking, but has a lot to say. The full ad (again, really, really beautiful) was deemed too controversial (political) to play during the Super Bowl. Plus the whole film is 5 minutes long so there really wasn’t a spot for it during the actual game.

84 Lumber set out to do something amazing. And they did. Kudos. Except, their site crashed. And that’s the fallibility of television. It’s one screen removed from the hub of a brand’s communications, where longer, more meaningful conversations take place. But their site crashed. Sure, there are some people on FB who said they emailed themselves the link because they just had to see what happens next, but I’m guessing most people went back to the game and probably forgot about the vignette. The really, really expensive vignette.

All advertising exists for one reason–to mobilize people to do a thing. That’s it. That’s all. And that’s everything.

Sure, you can use emotion to create a funny ad people talk about the next day, or, like with 84 Lumber, create something heartbreaking and sweet. But then what? What does that ad do? What equity does it have in advancing the brand?

This year I launched a new business venture with a longtime partner. Our focus is on digital as a way for companies to grow. We’re kinda still in the ad business (which is to say we’re both seasoned advertising professionals from the traditional world), but we know what works now. And for most brands, that means using digital as a means to create long-tail equity in the content they create, produce, and distribute. Without having to run a Super Bowl commercial. You see, digital lingers. It not only has a place to live online via a company website/blog, but to Google this content satisfies the search algorithm in ways that has value far into the future. It doesn’t just disappear after :30 seconds on television, or the next day in the newspaper, or a month from now on a billboard.

Yes, the 5-minute movie lives on the 84 Lumber site. But, as of this writing, their site was still glitchy. And I guess that’s a good sign–but it’s only a good sign because the narrative was so well done. And yes, again, it is a moving piece. But in the end it’s still an advertisement. And all advertising has goals attached. I’m afraid someone at 84 Lumber has a lot of explaining to do this morning.

Does this spot make me want to buy from 84 Lumber? I guess sure, if there was one closer to me than the Home Depot a mile away. But because I’m a cynical ad guy, I see the man behind the curtain on everything. And in the end this is just a really good film. Not a great ad.

When I was a little boy I loved the Super Bowl for its advertising. I was a wide-eyed kid with no reference point to the dark side of the business. The side that demands results. Last night there weren’t many ads that made me stop and look (except some really bad ones). But the 84 Lumber spot was one of them. Too bad it didn’t live up to its potential as an actual ad that advanced the brand. And while we’re at it, do you really believe they’re going to put a door in the wall Trump builds? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for humanitarian issues and the plight of refugees, but come on …

The most amazing ad of the Super Bowl last night happened in the first break after the game ended. Because I see the man behind the curtain, I was amazed at the logistics that went into something like this. Because I’m a veteran of the US Air Force, it moved me pretty hard. And yes, Hyundai is a Korean brand. A Korean brand that just influenced me with an ad so powerful that I’m now considering a Hyundai for my 16-year-old daughter. Now that’s advertising.


Jim Mitchem

Immaculate Beast
A Note to Old Friends

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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