During last night’s Super Bowl, Dodge aired an ad that included a clip from the “Drum Major Instinct” sermon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered on February 4, 1968, exactly 50 years before the game. The commercial featured King extolling the importance of being of service to one’s community over images of a Dodge Ram truck powering through the mud.
“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,” the King voiceover said over images of factory workers and football players running practice drills. “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.”
We are all built to serve, but it takes will and courage to do what's right. Tell us how you aid your community with #RamBuiltToServe and watch our Big Game moments here: https://t.co/MNjwAXYmXw #SBLII pic.twitter.com/BcWTZectHq
— Ram Trucks (@RamTrucks) February 5, 2018
The excerpt Ram used conveniently cuts off before King could condemn rampant consumerism and the advertising industry as a whole. He even specifically called out car ads.
“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,” King said. “In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. 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.”
This isn’t the first time that King’s likeness has been used to sell a car. Mercedes drew criticism in 2010 when it used footage of King and Muhammad Ali to sell a $170,000 car.
After the last night’s spot aired and was almost immediately roasted on Twitter, the King Center, led by CEO Bernice King, MLK’s daughter, sent a tweet distancing itself from the ad.
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
Bernice King then urged people to view the entirety of the speech the ad quoted.
Here is #DrumMajorInstinct in its entirety. Learn about #MLK from him. Please listen to/read his speeches, sermons and writings. Understand his comprehensive teachings and his global perspective. Study his nonviolent philosophy. It’s more than a tactic. https://t.co/56fiF8r6iP
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) February 5, 2018
Reps from Dodge defended the ad via a statement claiming that it “worked closely with the representatives of the Martin Luther King Jr. estate to receive the necessary approvals.”
The entity Dodge worked with is Intellectual Properties Management, Inc, the company responsible for licensing King’s speeches. When Spin reached out to Dodge for comment, we received a statement from Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, Inc. and manager of MLK’s estate, in response:
“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.”