The Philadelphia Eagles pulled off a stunning upset by defeating the favored New England Patriots in Sunday night’s Super Bowl, 41-33. That victory wasn’t the only surprise in store for viewers, however, as a commercial for Dodge’s Ram trucks struck an unpleasant chord with many watching the game — and prompted them to sound off on social media.
The above advertisement rankled many for its use of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 speech “The Drum Major Instinct,” which was given exactly 50 years ago, on Feb. 4, 1968 (exactly two months before his assassination), and was set to a montage of sights of kids playing football, military men and firefighters, and giant Ram trucks driving through mist. The minute-long commercial was part of Dodge’s “Built to Serve” campaign, and it was authorized by Intellectual Properties Management, which controls the rights to King’s image and orations. In an official statement given to Slate, IPM’s managing director Eric D. Tidwell defended the ad, stating:
“When Ram approached the King Estate with the idea of featuring Dr. King’s voice in a new “Built to Serve” commercial, we were pleasantly surprised at the existence of the Ram Nation volunteers and their efforts. We learned that as a volunteer group of Ram owners, they serve others through everything from natural disaster relief, to blood drives, to local community volunteer initiatives. Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances. We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others. Thus we decided to be a part of Ram’s “Built to Serve” Super Bowl program.”
No matter that explanation, it was condemned by The King Center, which tweeted:
Neither @TheKingCenter nor @BerniceKing is the entity that approves the use of #MLK’s words or imagery for use in merchandise, entertainment (movies, music, artwork, etc) or advertisement, including tonight’s @Dodge #SuperBowl commercial.
— The King Center (@TheKingCenter) February 5, 2018
The King Center wasn’t the only critical voice chiming in online, as many took to Twitter to lambaste Dodge for exploiting King’s persona and speech to crassly sell cars and promote the military and football.
Ok that was weird, and not in a good way, hearing MLK's words used to sell products … #SuperBowlAds
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) February 5, 2018
Dodge using Martin Luther King to sell pickup trucks. Maybe they’ll also use him to sell fire hoses and guard dogs. #SuperBowl
— Steve Hofstetter (Irvine 2/13) (@SteveHofstetter) February 5, 2018
Dodge appropriating MLK for a Superbowl ad is some BS.
— skywaker9 (@skywaker9) February 5, 2018
Even Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, made sure to let online critics know that she had nothing to do with the spot, responding to a tweet thusly:
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) February 5, 2018
The commercial, which reportedly cost upward of $5 million, was one of five run by Fiat Chrysler (owner of Dodge). None of the other four commercials, however, elicited anything close to a similar response.
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