The Super Bowl is epic for many a reason. The game, the parties, the food, the halftime show, and — for most of us — the commercials. However, Dodge found themselves on the receiving end of sharp backlash on Sunday, February 4th, after they used part of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech in their Ram truck ad.
The ad featured a montage of people helping and serving others while Dr. King’s famous speech about the virtues of service played in the background. The commercial ends with the phrase “built to serve” fading into the screen before featuring the Ram’s logo.
And Twitter users were rightfully outraged.
Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of the King estate’s licensing company, said that Ram had initially approached them about using the speech, and they agreed because, “the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”
However, the King Center released a statement on Twitter saying that neither the organization nor King’s daughter, Reverend Bernice King, approved of the use of his “words or imagery for use in merchandise, entertainment (movies, music, artwork, etc) or advertisement.”
We don’t know who at Dodge thought it would be a good idea to take King’s words out of context to sell cars, but needless to say, the decision feels tone-deaf. As marketing professor at Northwestern University Tim Calkins told the New York Times today, “It’s the wrong mistake to make given everything that’s going on in the U.S. right now. There’s so much emotion right now around race in this country that this was a high-risk move, and clearly it’s not going over very well.”
Dodge has yet to release a statement regarding the ad or the backlash.