Ram Trucks Criticized For Using MLK Speech In Super Bowl Ad

Ram Trucks touched a nerve Sunday with a Super Bowl ad set over the voice of Martin Luther King Jr.

“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” King was heard saying over a gritty montage of Americans and their Ram Trucks.

The recording is of King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, which he delivered 50 years ago on Sunday.

The civil rights leader once notably described himself as “much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic” and spent the last months of life advocating for massive government investment to end poverty in America.

Later in the very same sermon, King warned against succumbing to slick advertisers, “those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion.”

“[T]hey have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying,” King said. “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. That’s the way the advertisers do it.”

That fact wasn’t lost on social media users, one of whom marked the irony with a new ad:

King’s estate approved the ad, multiple outlets reported. Eric Tidwell, managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, which licenses the estate, told the New York Times: “Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances. We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”

Ram said in a statement to AdAge and other outlets that it was “was honored to have the privilege of working with the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate those words during the largest TV viewing event annually.”

Highdive, the boutique Chicago-based agency which AdAge reported had created the spot, did not immediately reply to TPM’s requests for comment.

A spokesperson for FCA US — the American subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler, Ram’s parent company — told TPM in an email that the ad “supports a core belief of the Ram Truck brand, and Ram truck owners, that true greatness is achieved by helping others.”

This post has been updated.