Every year, the marketing world goes bananas over the Super Bowl ads, and every year, the game is punctuated by a slew of over-the-top, creative-for-creativity’s-sake commercials with dubious marketing value.

But there are always at least a couple that cut through the noise with a combination of effective strategy, well-executed creative, and the right amount of boldness.

This year, 84 Lumber’s ad was one of the gems.

Not an ad, a film

In case you’re an Atlanta Falcons fan and have been too consumed with grief to notice the ad (disclosure: we’re doing our hometown best to cope), the 84 Lumber ad chronicled the journey of a Mexican mother and daughter and their odyssey to America. A parallel story shows construction workers laboring on a to-be-revealed structure.

The ad is actually two parts: the 90-second spot that ran during the Super Bowl, and a three-minute conclusion that can be viewed on the company’s web site.

At its core, the ad/online video combination is a soaring accomplishment in film making. One might expect to see something like this at a trendy film festival in New York or San Francisco.

The beautiful imagery and settings, all with basically no dialog, capture the harshness of the pair’s journey in stunning, heartbreaking detail. It accomplishes what films do at their best: tell an emotional story that awakens the audience to a reality they may not have understood or even knew existed.

But the 84 Lumber film (calling it an ad or commercial doesn’t seem to give it due credit) was also an achievement in marketing strategy and effectiveness. The returns on the film are impressive, having generated over 15 million YouTube views (as of this writing), and web traffic was 15 times higher.

In a true measure of effectiveness, the site prompted over 2 million people to register on the Journey84 recruitment site.

But there is so much more to it than its viral nature. For us, there are five main lessons that all marketers, whether you’re selling building products or anything else, can take from the 84 Lumber example:

Storytelling is powerful

Marketing experts have been pushing storytelling for some time, and we’re no exception. But that’s because it works, and because not enough marketers are doing it.

As noted above, the 84 Lumber film is a compelling story in its own right, ad or no ad. It has characters that you get to know and root for. You follow them on their journey, you feel their emotions, their struggle and despair. You rejoice with them at the end, as you would at the end of a good movie. You might have even gotten a little choked up, you old softie.

The brand and product are in the background. Throughout the film, you see the product (lumber) in its proper context, and you don’t see the brand logo until the end.

The story is what grabs you. If this had been a straightforward ad about lumber, it wouldn’t have had a fraction of the impact.

That brings us to the next point…

Don’t “sell”

Let’s face it, lumber is a commodity product. Very few people, in our estimation, have a strong brand preference when choosing lumber to frame a house or build a deck. Place one of 84 Lumber’s 2x4s next to anyone else’s, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

Too many companies in this position fool themselves into thinking that they have a superior product, and that features and benefits need to be the thrust of their marketing messages. 84 Lumber is under no such delusion.

The 84 Lumber film doesn’t try to sell lumber. It doesn’t claim to have the best quality wood, cut from the finest trees, dried in the best kilns, and so on. That may or may not be true, but consumers have heard that a thousand times before.

Instead, it demonstrates what makes 84 Lumber different, and gives you a reason to like them. People like to do business with people they like, so 84 Lumber tells a story that shows what they stand for, and lets you as the viewer draw your conclusions about whether your values are aligned with theirs.

At no point in the film does the viewer feel like they’re being sold to.

Celebrate your employees

Officials from 84 Lumber have stated that the film officially kicks off their “Journey84 Lumber” recruitment campaign. So, officially, this campaign is about building their employer brand. We think it does that and more.

Companies like 84 Lumber, Southwest Airlines, and several others understand that their employees are their brand. They are the people who represent the brand to the public, and they should have their stories told and celebrated.

The film directs you to the 84 Lumber web site. When you get there, you don’t see lumber or framed-in houses or decks. You learn about who 84 Lumber employees are, and how you can become one.

Of all the people who will see the 84 Lumber film, only a tiny fraction would be potential job candidates. But a great many more are potential customers, and they now understand how 84 Lumber feels about its employees. And when you know a company places a high value on its employees, you are more likely to have a good experience with that brand.

Hit your target while being inclusive

The 84 Lumber film is clearly meant to curry favor with the Hispanic market. One might expect because that’s the demographic that makes up a plurality of the workforce who touch their products. While that may be true, the 84 Lumber film is smart for another reason.

Recent reports are showing that the rate of homeownership among Hispanics is on the rise. So 84 Lumber is not only generating affinity among potential employees and workers who use their products, but also end users who will enjoy their products.

But it doesn’t stop there. While the film’s story centers on a Mexican mother and daughter, it draws on universal themes in a way that’s inclusive of everyone. The drive to build a better life, the will to succeed, the desire to help others, hard work, craftsmanship, even patriotism are all explored in the film.

No matter who you are, there is a part of the 84 Lumber film that speaks to you.

Create dialog

In these politically charged times, some companies have tried to stay out of the discussion, while others have entered it without hesitation. There have been varying degrees of success in all approaches.

84 Lumber has attached itself to at least two political issues in a rather skillful way. The issues at hand are immigration, of course, but also the skilled labor shortage. Both are important issues to 84 Lumber as well as the country, and they’ve placed themselves at the center of both.

They’ve left some things open to interpretation. There is a wall, big, ugly, forbidding, divisive. Or is it strong and protective? In any case, it’s having its desired effect.

The magic of the spot comes at the climax and the discovery of the door. Like walls, doors offer tremendous symbolic value. Whether it’s a door to your home a door to your country, doors are the passage through which people are invited, greeted and welcomed.

You, as the viewer, are welcome to interpret the wall and the door however you like, according to your worldview.

Immigration and the labor shortage are important issues to which there are no easy answers. Through its film, 84 Lumber is acknowledging that it doesn’t have the answers, either. They are careful not to advocate for any specific position, instead using symbolism to contribute to a dialog.

And we suspect their hope is that people will be at the center of that dialog.

Reaching the Hispanic American Market

As we noted above, we think the 84 Lumber film will be especially effective in reaching the Hispanic American market, a demographic that is increasing in importance for the home building and remodeling category.

For more information about how you can reach this key audience, download our White Paper.