There were ads with Morgan Freeman rapping and ads with babies from around the world and fast cars with singer Steven Tyler. There were ads with medieval themes, magic and song.
Then there was the ad using the words and voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to sell Dodge Ram sell trucks.
“Everybody can be great,” Dr. King said in a speech in 1968, two months before he was murdered. “You only need a heart full of grace; soul generated by love.”
The advertisement featured images of football players, cowboys, U.S. troops and first responders as a backdrop to King’s voiceover. The advertisement ended with an image of a soldier, a Dodge truck, and the words “Built to Serve.”
The commercial for Dodge trucks provoked protest on social media shortly after it aired from many Super Bowl LII viewers. It also induced a reaction tweet from the The King Center and Bernice King, the daughter of the late civil rights leader.
“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 tweet stated not long after the ad was broadcast.
April 4, 2018 was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, at the hands of James Earl Ray.
“The worst commercials are those that use icons like Martin Luther King Jr to sell things like a Dodge Ram truck,” tweeted Boston Globe Deputy Bureau Chief Matt Viser. He wasn’t the only one who noticed.
“So, Ram Truck appropriated Martin Luther King Jr. and used an all white cast + 1 token black to sell trucks to Trump supporters as if we’re back in the 1950s. #SuperBowl,” stated Lucy Amato on Twitter.
“Using a “Martin Luther King” speech and completely taking it OUT OF CONTEXT for a truck commercial is a disgrace,” another Twitter user reacted in a typical statement.
Super Bowl advertisements have become an annual obsession as the expensive and targeted marketing to a huge audience has become a place where products are debuted for the first time. Super Bowl ads have also become an annual time to analyze and study the many marketing strategy, as well as the “hits and misses” of the ads seen during the game.
It’s likely that the ad featuring King’s voice and words will likely be the source of analysis over the coming days. The ad might also reignite discussion on some of the decisions being made by Dexter King and Martin Luther King III regarding the use of their father’s image and words.Lauren Victoria Burke, Contributor
Ms. Burke has also authored three books of photography including two on President Obama’s 2008 campaign for the presidency and one with Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee.
Ms. Burke was born in the Bronx, New York and grew up on Long Island. She holds a B.A. in History from The American University.