Dodge Blasted for Distastefully Using MLK’s Words in Super Bowl Ad

The ad from a company whose leadership includes little diversity featured a portion of Dr. King’s sermon though omitted the part in which he also admonished pressure from advertisers.

Dodge received swift rebuke for its Super Bowl ad Sunday night in what many critics said was a distasteful use of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to sell cars and tone-deaf to Dr. King’s message.

Criticism on social media ranged from mocking Dodge to outright admonishment by The King Center itself, which was founded by King’s wife Coretta Scott King and currently helmed by his daughter, Bernice.

“I have a dream that men not be judged by the color of their skin, but by JD Power & Associates,” mocked one tweet. “I have a dream! That Ram Trucks will be bought by everyone watching the #SuperBowl!” said another.

One Twitter user shared a photo of what appears to be a Trump White House meeting consisting of all white men, with the caption: “Behind the scenes shot of the marketing meeting where they approved the MLK Dodge Ram commercial.”

Ironically, that does not seem to be far off. A perusal of the web page listing the management team at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which owns the Dodge brand, shows predominantly white, male leadership. Of the 27 executives, three are women and a one is a Black man. The single African American, who currently serves as head of design, served as president and CEO of the Dodge brand in 2009.

The company addressed the issue in a statement Monday saying it “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.”

Following the ad’s airing, The King Center immediately 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.”

However, licensing of King’s intellectual property is controlled by his son Dexter Scott King through the late civil rights leader’s estate. In a statement Monday morning, the estate’s managing director, Eric D. Tidwell, defended the decision to use King’s words in the ad.

“We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others. Thus we decided to be a part of Ram’s ‘Built to Serve’ Super Bowl program.”

The commercial features a portion of King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon voiced over images of soldiers, teachers, healthcare workers, ranchers, families working hard and other imagery meant to convey Dodge’s message that its trucks are “built to serve.” A Dodge Ram truck is also shown hauling an actual church.

The 30-second ad begins by noting that King’s sermon, delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, took place exactly 50 years ago to the day of the commercial’s airing.

King’s words:

“If you want to be important — wonderful. If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

Many observers also criticized the fact that Dr. King — in that same sermon — admonished the buying pressure from advertisers:

“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. 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,” King said. “That’s the way the advertisers do it.”

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  • Yes I found it offensive also. The noise of the ad, the burst of car, the speed – all took away from the focus on MLK words – It took me until half way through it before I realized it was King’s speech and the point of it. To me, service is not loud or mechanical, the ad just confused. Appropriating the words to try to appeal broadly across race – misguided, and looking at the room where the decision was made, easy to see how misrepresentation could occur there.

  • Had they just broadcast Dr. King’s message extolling service and showing scenes of people performing that service — both of which they did — and merely added their Dodge logo at the end, I would not have objected. However, the co-opting of an anti-materialistic message with a blatant hawking of their trucks was extremely tone-deaf and offensive.

  • At first I though it was in tribute for Dr. King because it is Black History month. After showing the trucks working in the background, my mouth fell open. Bad idea.

  • Travon Free and Alex Blagg’s comments are FUNNY, but true. Dr. King’s messages being regurgitated from the mouths of media moguls and fools is blatantly disrespectful, especially when taken out of context.

    Dr. King is quoting JESUS: “Let whoever is greatest among you be your servant.” Dodging the issue of shallow consumerism in advertising in his speech is an example of how racist whites create false narratives and flagrant lies.

    Whenever I hear Dr. King’s anointed words, it sends chills throughout my being. Despite the distasteful demagoguery in this ad, his powerful words of wisdom touched me deeply.

    I’m holding out hope that Dexter King had good intentions with it coinciding with Black History Month. You would think that they’d have a Black entertainer at halftime. Another disrespectful diss was not allowing Shani Davis to carry the flag in the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies [I don’t know why any Black person would want to, but…]. During tRump’s Nazist-KKK reign, it’s the age of “Mighty Whitey” [they’re all male with a silent, complicit white female chorus featuring Sarah Huckabilly, Kellyanne CONway, and the FOXettes (the actual animals, not in looks)].

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