The controversial Super Bowl commercial for 84 Lumber about a migrant family crossing the border into the U.S. was not meant to be “pro-immigration” or a political statement at all, the company’s CEO Maggie Hardy Magerko tells PEOPLE.
Hardy Magerko, who took over ownership of her family’s $2.86 billion company in 1992, says she is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and believes that a border wall — which featured prominently in the TV spot — “is a need.”
“We need to keep America safe,” the 51-year-old executive tells PEOPLE. “America needs to be safe so you and I can have the liberty to talk… The wall, I think it represents, to me, security. I like security.”
Hardy Magerko says she personally helped develop the commercial and its striking imagery, but her personal beliefs don’t play into the commercial.
“This came from the heart and I didn’t do it for personal gain,” she says. “It’s not about me or my beliefs or the wall, it’s about individuals… treating people with dignity and respect.”
She adds: “My intent was to show, through the mother and daughter, that through struggles we will do anything we possibly can to make [the world] a better place for our children. If I thought the wall was negative, I wouldn’t have had the wall.”
“There were many interpretations, but the message is in the eyes of the beholder,” adds Hardy Magerko, who took over Pittsburgh-based 84 Lumber from her father, now 94. “So, depending on what struggles and what you’re going through… it’s all in [the viewers’] interpretation.”
The ad, which features imposing shots of a U.S. border wall, is 84 Lumber’s first Super Bowl commercial and was initially rejected by FOX for being “too controversial for TV.”
The 90-second TV spot broadcast on Sunday featured a Hispanic mother and daughter making the treacherous journey north to the U.S. It cut off before the ending and urged viewers to go online to watch the full story.
The online ad, which is over 5 minutes long, ends with the mother and daughter encountering a wall at the U.S. border (something that Trump has repeatedly promised to build) — then finding a door built with lumber from a contractor, which allows them to enter the country.
The tagline, at the end of the full commercial, reads: “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”
It had a polarizing effect on viewers. Some took to social media to congratulate 84 Lumber for the company’s support of human rights and progressive policies, while others saw it as encouraging illegal immigration into the U.S.
“Of course, you get social media backlash,” says Hardy Magerko. “But there was more positive than negative far and away.”
Some social media users even threatened to boycott the company.
And others, were confused (especially when their site crashed after the ad aired).
“At the core, this commercial is about individuals that truly are scared, whatever that might be, whatever their own journey might be,” says Hardy Magerko.
She goes on to say it was not her intent to use the commercial as a platform to make political noise.
Rob Schapiro, chief creative officer of 84 Lumber’s ad agency Brunner, echoes her reasoning for the creating this type of advertisement.
“The intention is about opportunity,” Schapiro, who filmed the spot in Mexico, tells PEOPLE. “We view it as a patriotic story. If you think of liberty’s torch as a beacon of light from the land of opportunity, that’s how we viewed that light coming through the door. Exactly the same as a beacon of light, we are a company of opportunity and a land of opportunity.
“It’s a very patriotic message. The flag that this young child creates, you see what that means to the mother and daughter. That’s the beacon of light we talk about.”
Hardy Magerko watched the controversial ad play on Super Bowl Sunday with a few close friends in New York, while Schapiro watched from Pittsburgh, where both companies are headquartered. The two had worked closely together since November on casting and filming.
“We wanted to shake things up and I think we did!” says Hardy Magerko, still giddy from the explosive social media response. “During market research, we found that people 40 and younger don’t know about [the company], so I thought ‘Okay… let’s tie in what is going on in the world and, more importantly, with our beliefs and company ideals and [make a commercial].’ ”
Instead, Hardy Magerko says the advertisement, at its core, was meant to attract new, young employees for her growing business and to drum up new customers while “stimulating the housing market.”
“I believe in youth and being contemporary,” she explains. “We need to surround ourselves with people who will continue to build America and build 84 Lumber.”
“I’m not taking a personal stance here. It’s about hope, it’s being patriotic,” says Hardy Magerko. “It’s hope for the future, it’s not knowing but standing together strong for all positives.”