Another year, another Super Bowl ad controversy.
This year, viewers took issue with a commercial for Dodge Ram trucks that aired during the second quarter of the Super Bowl and included a voice sample of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The 60-second “Built to Serve” spot featured 26 images of those serving others (including a teacher, a firefighter, and a member of the military) and narration from the civil rights leader of a speech delivered exactly 50 years prior.
The response was swift and overwhelmingly negative on social media, with viewers wondering why the King estate would permit the carmaker to use its rights. Tweets included “Black people can’t kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the Super Bowl. Unbelievable” and “Next year we’ll see Rosa Parks shilling for Uber: ‘convenient, but you still have to sit in the back.’”
Even lawmakers chimed in. “Exploitation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech about servant leadership to sell trucks is a new low,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) tweeted.
Also unhappy: members of the King family. The King Center (founded by MLK’s wife, Coretta Scott King) tweeted: “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.”
Dodge attempted to appease consumers, with little success. “It is 50 years to the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave such a tremendous speech about the value of service. Ram was honored to have the privilege of working with the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate those words during the largest TV viewing event annually. 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,” the company said in a statement.
To view the ad, click here.
Why it matters: The Dodge ad appeared to be the loser in the Super Bowl advertising competition, scoring more negative mentions than positive. Brandwatch described the consumer response as “riddled with irony, sarcasm and outrage, as many people are unhappy with how the company used Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to ‘sell trucks.’”