Dodge Ram’s Super Bowl Commercial sparks outrage for using Martin Luther King's Speech To Sell Trucks
Posted on February 06, 2018 | By ArabAd staff

It seems like there's always one commercial at the Super Bowl that leaves viewers scratching their heads… This year, it's the Dodge Ram’s Super Bowl Ad that sparked outrage because it used part of a sermon Martin Luther King delivered in 1968.

The ad shows people helping others, picturing moments of struggle--a sweating man doing pushups-- and moments of heroism-- a firefighter carrying a boy outside a burning building. It also shows a Ram transporting a church. 

Here is the text from the sermon - known as "The Drum Major Instinct" - that was used as a voice-over in the commercial:

"If you want to be important - wonderful. If you want to be recognized - wonderful. If you want to be great - wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness. . . . By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great . . . by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. . . . You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know [Einstein's] theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant."

At the end of the commercial, Dodge uses the tagline: “Built to Serve.”

Eric Tidwell, the manager of the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, which handles the licensing King's intellectual property, allowed King's sermon to be used in the advertisement. He said that the advertisement was reviewed to ensure it met "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," he said.

However, the King Center, which was founded as a memorial to King by his wife, Coretta Scott King, tweeted that the center and its chief executive, Bernice King, the youngest child of the Kings, does not approve of the use of his words in advertisements.

“Neither The King Center nor Bernice King 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 Super Bowl commercial,” his family wrote on Twitter via The King Center account.

Others also weighed in. There’s so much emotion right now around race in the US that using King’s words about the value of service to sell trucks was a high-risk move. Moreover, many people on social media believed it was inappropriate to use the civil rights activist’s words in order to sell cars and found the commercial distasteful.  Especially that in the same sermon, King also advised people not to spend too much on cars.

“I think there are just some figures of history who are off-limits for commercials. Dr. King is one of them," one person wrote.

Susan Credle, global chief creative officer of the agency FCB, marveled at the speed of the online backlash around the ad and said it showed the risks of wading into social commentary, especially during an event like the Super Bowl.

Amid the backlash, Dodge released a statement about the matter, saying it was “honored to have the privilege of working with the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate those words during the largest TV viewing event annually.” The automaker also noted: “Estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process every step of the way.”