As any student of American history can tell you, Martin Luther King Jr. was all about two things: social justice, and the rugged power of a Dodge Ram.
But the night after a Super Bowl ad featuring one of his speeches drew an extremely predictable backlash, the King family estate and the company were both forced to defend their decision to use King’s powerful words for the purpose of selling pickup trucks.
In a statement, Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, which manages the King estate, said: “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.”
And Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S., which owns Dodge, said: “We worked closely with the representatives of the Martin Luther King Jr. estate to receive the necessary approvals, and estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process every step of the way.”
In the ad, which almost seemed designed to stoke social-media outrage, footage of the truck (and its ruggedness) was overlaid with snippets from King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, which he delivered exactly 50 years before the day of the Super Bowl, and just two months before his death.
Adding to the discordance between the words and images is the fact that, as a clever video editor illustrated — King specifically preached against consumerism, and specifically car commercials, during the very same sermon quoted in the ad.
Let this teach all companies an important lesson: You can only get away with invoking Martin Luther King Jr. if you make really cool computers.