A Dodge commercial aired during the Super Bowl using the voice of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. backfired Sunday, with viewers criticizing the spot on social media and questioning whether King’s family approved of the ad.
Dodge used an excerpt from King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, which was originally delivered on Feb. 4, 1968 in Atlanta, Ga., in what was meant to be an inspirational commercial about the power of service, cooperation, and community.
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
— RamTrucks (@RamTrucks) February 5, 2018
Viewers were taken aback. It didn’t take long for social media users to inquire whether King’s family approved of the company appropriating the civil rights leader’s words as a marketing tool. The late Reverend’s youngest daughter, Bernice King, took to Twitter with an unambiguous response:
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) February 5, 2018
The King Center also distanced itself from the ad, stating that it is not responsible for approving commercial use of King’s words and images.
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
Dodge confirmed that the company “worked closely” with the Martin Luther King, Jr. estate, which manages use of King’s intellectual property, to obtain approval to use the speech, Slate reports. The estate is a separate entity from the King Center, the nonprofit established by the Reverend’s wife, Coretta Scott King. “Estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process,” a Dodge representative said.
Here’s how a few viewers reacted to the ad:
The King family has vehemently defended MLK's likeness, voice, speeches, etc. FOR DECADES. To hear him now... on an ad... to sell... trucks.... is unsettling.
— April (@ReignOfApril) February 5, 2018
During his sermon of 50 years ago today, Martin Luther King also advised people not to spend too much money on their cars.
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) February 5, 2018
Words of Martin Luther King Jr., noted critic of capitalism, used to sell trucks #SuperBowl
— Brian Lyman (@lyman_brian) February 5, 2018
OMG someone overlayed that ridiculous Dodge/MLK ad with what King actually said about capitalism and car commercials pic.twitter.com/9IB528mCyt
— Astead (@AsteadWesley) February 5, 2018
“And now, your Super Bowl halftime performers: Justin Timberlake and a hologram of Martin Luther King Jr talking about how much he loves his new Dodge Ram.”
— Jess Dweck (@TheDweck) February 5, 2018