The fact that Dodge used a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. in a commercial for their new Ram Truck which was shown at the Superbowl, has been seen by a large number of people as insensitive. There are others that see it as more than this and believe that it is actually extremely inappropriate given all the controversy that has surrounded American Football and the Black Lives Matter movement recently. The Drum Major Instinct sermon was one of the last speeches that King made before his death, coming only two months before he died. The speech discusses what he imagines his funeral and eulogy will be like and what he wants people to remember as his legacy. He says that he will not have a lot of material possessions to leave behind but that he hopes people will remember what he tried to do for justice.
A speech that talks about how unimportant material possessions are may seem like a strange choice for an advertisement for a top of the range car. It seems even stranger when you consider that further on in the speech King advises people not to spend a lot of money on purchasing a car. Strangely enough, this portion of the speech is not featured at all in the advertisement. The King Center and King’s daughter Bernice King were quick to speak out about the use of MLK’s voice in the advert on social media. Permission was granted to use aspects of the speech but it does not seem that any of King’s relatives were aware of the context that the speech would be used in. There was also an immediate backlash on social media from members of the public, most of who could not seem to believe what they were seeing.
The theory behind the advert seemed to be to highlight some of the work that Dodge employees take part in all over the world. They get involved in community programs and provide aid to areas that have been affected by natural disasters. This is the kind of thing that King would have approved of but the whole way that Dodge has gone about this advertisement just feels wrong and almost exploitative.
One of the main lessons that can be learned from this whole episode is that using anything in an advert that is associated with Martin Luther King is never a good idea unless you have the express permission of the family and they know how it is going to be used. There has been no comment from Dodge yet in response to the advert but it is expected that an apology will be issued at some stage. One good thing that has come out of this whole situation is that The King Center has taken the opportunity to share the speech online to a whole generation of people that may not have heard it before. Even fifty years later it is still incredibly relevant and there are many lessons that can be learned from it.