Danica Kombol viewed the Super Bowl ad with a mix of horror and incredulity. Surely an auto company was not using audio of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a commercial for pickup trucks. Surely not.
“When we were watching it we were like .. no. They couldn’t. They couldn’t. They did,” said Kombol, a social media strategist and CEO of the Everywhere Agency.
The Ram Trucks ad, titled “Built to Serve,” features audio from a fiery, inspiring public oration not long before King was shot to death, and modern clips of people pitching in to help those in need. The trucks only appear briefly a couple of times, and the message seems to be their highest use is in serving others – transporting relief materials to storm victims, for example.
(Scroll down to see the ad).
Although the automaker might have had the best of intentions, the ad was tone deaf, Kombol said.
“Dodge tried to ram MLK’s speech down our throats to sell some trucks,” she said. “They hijacked a Civil Rights leaders’ words for their own purposes.”
To be clear, the ad folks had the proper legal clearance to use the audio and at least some official blessing.
Intellectual Properties Management is the licenser of the King estate. Dexter Scott King is the organization’s CEO and CFO and, as of 2011, Bernice King is the secretary, according to documents on file with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Prior to that year, Dexter King also was listed as secretary, documents show.
The entity’s managing director, Eric D. Tidwell explained how Dodge obtained the legal OK to use the late King’s voice. Ram Trucks has this as its pinned tweet:
Amid the swift social media furor sparked by ad, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change posted a message saying neither the center nor Bernice King, its and its CEO, are the governing authorities in charge of licensing use of King’s images or words.
Here’s the ad:
“Dodge’s Ram ad with its beautiful, positive message on Super Bowl Sunday aired when America is need of coming together,” he said. “Dodge’s values aligns with MLK’s message and it didn’t bother MLK’s rights holders who approved the license. The controversy will be a net benefit to the Ram truck’s brand because of the extra attention, especially when the underlying message is an elegantly positive and soulful one.”