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Commercial Appeal

Alum Produced Viral 84 Lumber Ad for Super Bowl

By Lauren Brown


Courtesy of 84Lumber

Courtesy of 84Lumber


John Noble ’85 has produced over 1,000 TV commercials for big names like Coke, Budweiser and Amazon, but in 30 years in advertising, he’s never seen a reaction to his work like that following Sunday’s Super Bowl premiere of a spot for 84 Lumber.

The nearly five-minute ad, which FOX declined to run in its original form, depicts the journey of an impoverished Mexican woman and her daughter through cities and across deserts, in pickup trucks and on foot to reach the U.S. border. There, they are halted by a miles-long wall, but are surprised to discover a large, mysterious wooden door. 

The flood of intrigued viewers who saw the shorter, edited version during the game crashed the company’s website. It has since racked up more than 10 million views on YouTube. 

Noble and his co-founder at production firm FIXER Partners oversaw the entire process from script to screen—and on a stunningly short deadline. He paused amid the avalanche of publicity to tell us about the experience: 

TERP: What are your memories of being a student in Maryland’s journalism school back in the 1980s? 

Noble: UMD really did not have an advertising school per se, so I pursued a journalism degree. My buddy Mike Savarese and I took classes together, and one of our favorite and most challenging professors was Eric Zanot, who taught advertising. He challenged us to think big, to think different, and that “good enough” was not enough. I think Mike and I both got Cs in that class, but I used that charge to “think different” to propel me throughout my career, and it’s worked ever since. 


TERP: What is FIXER Partners, and what do you do there? 

Noble: FIXER Partners was founded by my partner Brad Powell and myself. After 20 years of working “for the man”, we decided to go for it and produce work under our own banner. FIXER is like a production SWAT team: As seasoned pros, we know how to get in and assess the situation quickly, we solve and fix efficiently, and then we get out. It’s a new model for production, whereas the agency and/or brand can use when they need us and avoid paying staff salaries and the overhead that comes with that all. 

TERP: What was your role in creating this ad, 84 Lumber’s first in the Super Bowl?

Noble: I was the executive producer along with my partner. We estimated the job, we balanced the dollars with the creative needs, and with that we put together talent recommendations for the creative team such as directors, editors, music house, FX house, etc. 

TERP: Where did the concept come from?

Noble: The spot was conceived by an ad agency called Brunner, out of Pittsburgh, Pa. A big team of people came together to work on this extended-length ad, including a film production company, editors, visual effects experts, and sound, color and music people.


TERP: How long did it take, from start to finish?

Noble: Most brands wanting a Super Bowl spot will start their creative brief the day after the previous Super Bowl is over. This one, however, landed on the FIXER desk on Dec. 8 and needed to deliver to FOX by noon on Jan. 30, giving us seven weeks—with the holidays—to produce start to finish. It was quite the sprint.

TERP: Were you part of the team filming on location in Mexico? What was that experience like? 

Noble: We flew to Mexico City and then traveled by van to our locations. It was six straight days of shooting in extremely remote locations outside Xalpa. It was very dry and dusty, with limited services. It wasn’t easy. Our director, Cole Webley of Sanctuary films, was a relentless professional in his pursuit to capture authentic imagery, so his vision and passion carried us through. 

TERP: The ad generated controversy, with some viewers saying it endorses illegal immigration, and others calling it a progressive view on opening the nation’s borders. Others say it’s more of a representation of the building trades as the gateway to America or a call for new employees. What do you think is the message?

Noble: Quite simply, it’s a message of inclusion and not huge daunting walls and exclusion—inclusion for hardworking, honest people who want to be a part of this great country. It’s the foundation of what we are built on, diversity, and it’s what will continue to make us great. No one wants wide-open borders—that would be chaos and would be wrong. The “door shot” was never, ever meant to be taken literally; it is a visual metaphor for open doors for good, honest, moral people, and there are a lot of them who deserve to be allowed into our country. 


TERP: Who did you watch the game and commercial with, and what was their reaction?

Noble: I stayed home and watched it alone. I’ve produced four Super Bowl spots now, and I am a very nervous man, come game time. So while I love parties, Super Bowl parties are not for me if I have a spot playing. 

TERP: How are you judging its success? And what’s next at FIXER?

Noble: We’ve surpassed 10 million views now on YouTube and something like 80 million impressions throughout the internet. That kind of exposure is hard to beat, so I am very pleased. Next for FIXER? Well, we’re going to take a few days off here and enjoy the peace and quiet, but not for too long. We’re producing a large U.S. Marines ad package out of Atlanta, and we are engaged in some very interesting high-level conversations with some big American brands. It’s an exciting time to be doing what we’re doing.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.