Aside from a lukewarm halftime show that (frustratingly) incorporated Prince’s image, a weird 30-second commercial blackout, and a Scientology ad, the 2018 Super Bowl was mostly tame. Funny Super Bowl commercials got lots of non-football fans talking, but there was one commercial that left a lot of people going…“Huh?”
During Sunday night’s game, Dodge aired a commercial that used actual audio from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon. The ad for their Ram vehicle, meant to be an inspirational message about the importance of serving others, mostly ended up pissing off its viewers. Unlike other advertisers, Dodge chose not to release the ad before the Super Bowl aired and ended up with a misguided commercial that grossly misused the words of Martin Luther King Jr.
Twitter users were quick to call out the tomfoolery, and noted that nowhere in King’s speeches did he reference Dodge Ram ownership as the solution to injustice.
Dodge’s choice to associate King’s legacy with commercialism is problematic in itself — but their decision to use this particular sermon, a sermon that condemns aspects of capitalism and materialism, leaves us wondering who could have thought this was a good idea.
King is often painted as a martyr, as a symbol of nonviolence, as the pinnacle of Black articulation. King’s voice contains power and recognizability, which is probably why Dodge sought to include it in their commercial. But their advertising executives forgot to mention that King held radical views during his lifetime, none of which would have celebrated a corporation’s use of his sermons to sell trucks.
Director Ava Duvernay wasn’t even able to secure the rights to King’s speeches for her 2014 film Selma. But the MLK estate gave Dodge execs the go-ahead, seemingly believing that the ad’s message and King’s philosophy were in sync.
The non-profit King Center, established by the late Coretta Scott King and King’s own daughter, Bernice King, made sure to note that they did not stand behind Dodge’s use of King’s words. So why did estate representatives?
The ad felt insensitive in a social climate where someone like Colin Kaepernick was effectively blackballed by the NFL for peacefully “taking a knee” to protest police brutality against Black people and people of color. Yet during the biggest football game of the year, Dodge chose to exploit the words of King, who also peacefully protested against racial injustice.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the manufacturer of Dodge Ram trucks, defended the ad, stating, “It is 50 years to the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave such a tremendous speech about the value of service.”
On April 4th, it will also be 50 years since King’s death, and yet much of what he fought for — the reason why he was both revered and hated — is still prevalent in 2018.
It is still dangerous for a Black person to speak out against injustice, to demand basic human rights. Instead of Dodge using the work of a Black activist for the purposes of nostalgia and profit, they could have focused on our present day struggles. The ad may have been trying to promote Dodge’s service initiative, Ram Nation, but it felt like yet another case of “well-intentioned” advertising that exploits the works of Black people without actually standing against the injustices we face.