Using Martin Luther King Jr. To Sell Trucks Infuriates Admirers During Super Bowl

Using Martin Luther King Jr. To Sell Trucks Infuriates Admirers During Super Bowl

A Super Bowl ad that used the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. to sell pickup trucks was considered tone-deaf, provoking anger and controversy during the sporting event seen by an estimated 100 million people.

But is it still tone-deaf if the ad was approved by the entity that is the “exclusive licensor” for the Martin Luther King, Jr. estate? The one run by King’s son?

That’s exactly what happened, Slate reported.

MLK’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon (you can read the entire speech here) serves as the voiceover for a Dodge Ram truck commercial. The speech, made by King in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 1968, praised service and warned against capitalism and marketing.

The Dodge Ram ad shows images of Americans with their families volunteering in their communities, working outside, riding horses, and teaching math. The description of the ad on the Ram Trucks YouTube page says, “In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ram truck owners also believe in a life of serving others.”

Dr. Martin Luther King and Charles Evers, NAACP field secretary together in Jackson, Miss., March 20, 1968. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell))

Twitter users responded, saying Dodge Ram co-opted King’s words, which were spoken 50 years ago to the day by the Civil Rights activist. King was assassinated two months later.

Are you interested in getting smart on Life Insurance?
No Doctor Visit Required, Get Policy for as low as $30 per Month
Click here to take the next step

King’s estate is notoriously litigious when it comes to using his speeches without permission, and restrictive when it comes to requests, Slate reported.

The King Center, a nonprofit established by MLK’s wife Coretta Scott King, distanced itself from the ad on Twitter:

With a single word of disavowal, Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, responded to a tweet questioning King’s family for allowing such an ad to run:

But someone gave Dodge permission to use King’s voice.

A separate entity controls King’s speeches and image, NBC News reported.

That entity — the Atlanta-based Intellectual Properties Management Inc. — is run by King’s son, CEO Dexter Scott King. It is the “exclusive licensor” of the estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Eric D. Tidwell, managing director of the organization, said in a statement early Monday:

“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.”

Here’s more from Tidwell:

When Ram approached the King Estate with the idea of featuring Dr. King’s voice in a new “Built To Serve” commercial, we were pleasantly surprised at the existence of the Ram Nation volunteers and their efforts. We learned that as a volunteer group of Ram owners, they serve others through everything from natural disaster relief, to blood drives, to local community volunteer initiatives. Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances.”

Here are some of the comments on Twitter showing how controversial the ad was: