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."
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
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.
"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."
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
Does the Martin Luther King Jr. Dodge come with the Rosa Parallel Parks assist feature? Because if not you can keep it.— Travon Free (@Travon) February 5, 2018
"I have a dream that men not be judged by the color of their skin, but by JD Power & Associates." — Martin Luther King, Jr.— Alex Blagg (@alexblagg) February 5, 2018
"I have a dream! That Ram Trucks will be bought by everyone watching the #SuperBowl!" - actual quote by Martin Luther King Jr (totally real)— Rob Dyke (@TheRobDyke) February 5, 2018