“Built To Serve”
February 5th, 2018 – The Patriots lost the Super Bowl last night, and it looks like the Dodge Ram took an L of its own. The car manufacturer used one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermons in their Super Bowl ad — blending the civil rights leader’s words about service with images of Americans serving in their various communities. And, yes, there were also shots of the truck charging through mud.
The backlash was swift with viewers taking to social media to criticize using MLK’s words to sell cars. While Adweek initially guessed that “some” people would object to his words being used for profit, it turned out to be a lot more than just some.
From The King Center and US Representatives to journalists and comedians, there were plenty of responses. Not only was the agency’s judgment and motive questioned but many people also pointed out that the sermon Dr. King was giving (“The Drum Major Instinct”) actually criticized the advertising industry.
While these words were used in the Ram 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.”
These passages were not:
“Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. (Yes) That’s the way the advertisers do it.”
“But now the problem is, it is the drum major instinct. And you know, you see people over and over again with the drum major instinct taking them over. And they just live their lives trying to outdo the Joneses. (Amen) They got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better and a little better-looking than Mary’s coat. And I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car.”
I’d say, “Hey MLK I gotta chop some wood but my Dodge Ram may not be able to handle all the wood I chop” and MLK would be like, “Let me meet you down there by the wood chopping area with my matching Dodge Ram.” We’d haul the wood then go fight for civil rights later that day.
— George Wallace (@MrGeorgeWallace) February 5, 2018
— Nick Jack Pappas (@Pappiness) February 5, 2018
— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) February 5, 2018
Black people cant kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the super bowl. Unbelievable.
— Akilah Hughes (@AkilahObviously) February 5, 2018
If you don’t like MLK in a car commercial you are going to hate the new Doritos flavor Gandhi is pushing.
— Jon Lovett (@jonlovett) February 5, 2018
“I have a dream that men not be judged by the color of their skin, but by JD Power & Associates.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
— Alex Blagg (@alexblagg) February 5, 2018
Ordinarily I wouldn’t mention the Dodge Ram’s Super Bowl Ad because I wouldn’t want to draw attention to it, but exploitation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech about servant leadership to sell trucks is a new low.
— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) February 5, 2018
The blatant commodification of black culture, black struggle and black pain illustrates perfectly how America is perfectly willing to exploit blackness but perfectly incapable of honoring it. #DodgeRam #MLK
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) February 5, 2018
While Intellectual Properties Management, the licenser of the King estate, approved the use, The King Center and Bernice King did not and shared that announcement on Twitter following the outcry.
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
What did you think of the Dodge Ram commercial during the Super Bowl? Was the use of Dr. King’s words inspiring or an exploitation that he wouldn’t have wanted?