Ram Criticized As Super Bowl Ad Takes Martin Luther King Jr. Speech Out Of Context

Martin Luther King Jr. in a restaurant in 1963.
William H. Alden / Evening Standard/Getty Images

People are in an uproar after one particular Super Bowl ad used a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. to sell its products. Ram is facing criticism after it used a portion of King’s “Drum Major Instinct” speech in its latest commercial, which aired on Sunday during the NFL championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots, which the former won.

The Ram Super Bowl ad, which lasted for one minute, started off by reminding the viewers of the speech King made on February 4, 1968, or exactly 50 years ago on the day Super Bowl LII was played.

“If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful,” King could be heard saying as shots of people going through different moments of struggles and heroism flash through the screen, including one of a man doing push-ups, a student listening as her teacher gives a lecture, and a fireman carrying a boy to safety as a fire rages behind them.

“But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness,” King further said. Interestingly, as King’s said the word “greatness,” a close-up of a Ram truck could be seen. The commercial later shows a Ram truck transporting a church making it clearer what the Super Bowl ad was all about.

The problem with the Ram commercial is not just about the use of an American icon to sell trucks. The Super Bowl ad took King’s sermon completely out of context.

In the sermon, which was delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King called out advertisers. King said the advertisers, who he described as “those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion,” make it look like people have to drink this kind of whiskey, drive this kind of car, wear this type of lipstick or perfume to become a person of distinction.

“And I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car…. I’m sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit, and I’m going to continue to say it to America.”

As the Drum Major Institute also pointed out, “one of the specific evils Dr. King condemned was the exploitation of the drum major instinct by advertisers, particularly car advertisers.”

Nathan Robinson, editor in chief of Current Affairs, re-dubbed the controversial Super Bowl ad with the part of the sermon where King talks about individualism and consumer capitalism. Robinson sent an email to Huffington Post explaining his move.

“King’s words are constantly taken out of context and manipulated in order to imply that he supported things he actually opposed,” Robinson said. “Having his voice manipulate people into buying Dodge Rams is just the latest and most absurd recurrence of the tendency.”

Here’s the re-dubbed version:

According to Washington Post, the use of the sermon was approved by those who managed King’s estate. However, many people who are associated with King, including his wife and children, were opposed to the move.

Coretta Scott King, through the King Center Twitter account, said that the center nor Bernice King, the couple’s youngest child, are not responsible for the use of King’s words or imagery in the Ram Super Bowl ad as well as in other forms of merchandise and entertainment.

The Ram Super Bowl ad also showed a group of football players kneeling during a huddle, probably before game time. Some viewers found it ironic that the NFL approved the use of King in the ad while “shutting out Colin Kaepernick” for his protests, as Yahoo reported.

“Black people cant kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the super bowl. Unbelievable,” tweeted Akilah Hughes.

The decision to allow Ram to use King and his words for the ad was made by Eric D. Tidwell, who manages the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King. Tidwell said that he thought the Super Bowl ad “embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said the company worked closely with representatives of King’s estate in making the Super Bowl ad.

Below is the actual Ram Super Bowl Ad.