Advertising Age reported on the Dodge Ram commercial featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. serving as voiceover, which drew immediate criticism from the public. It’s not the first time Dodge Ram has delivered a culturally clueless payload during the Super Bowl. The truck company should stick with Clint Eastwood for future messages.
Ram Backlash: What MLK Really Said About Advertising
By E.J. Schultz
The 50-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. speech that Ram used to back its controversial Super Bowl ad included a passage hinting at what the civil rights icon really thought about advertisers. He wasn’t especially fond of them: King called them “gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion,” suggesting that, for instance, their tactics manipulate people into thinking that “in order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car.”
Ram, of course, left that part of his speech out of its ad, which came under heavy criticism Sunday for using MLK’s words to sell a truck. But a version of the ad overlayed with King’s critique of advertising is circulating on social media, adding to the backlash against Ram.
Ram-owner Fiat Chrysler Automobile defended the service-themed spot Sunday night, saying that it worked in collaboration MLK’s estate on the spot. Eric D. Tidwell, managing director of the licensor of the estate, a group called Intellectual Properties Management Inc., said the organization reviewed the ad to “ensure it met our standard integrity clearances,” according to Slate and other media reports. “We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”
Below is the full passage about advertising from the speech, called the “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, which King delivered on Feb 4, 1968. It was an adaptation of the 1952 homily “Drum-Major Instincts” by J. Wallace Hamilton, a liberal Methodist preacher, according to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, which has a copy of the entire speech on its web site.
“Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. (Yes) That’s the way the advertisers do it.”