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Super Bowl Ad With Martin Luther King Speech Sparks Backlash

King’s youngest daughter Bernice and The King Center both distanced themselves from car commercial

Dodge’s Super Bowl ad caught the attention of viewers during the second half of the game Sunday night – but not for the right reasons.

The car company’s TV spot for Dodge Ram trucks incorporated one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful last sermons, “The Drum Major Instinct,” and viewers immediately took to social media to criticize the use of King’s poignant words to sell pickup trucks.

“If you want to be important, wonderful,” King said in his speech, which he delivered in Atlanta, Georgia, back on February 4th, 1968. “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 a servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. By giving that definition of greatness that means that everybody can be great. You don’t have to know about Pluto and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know the theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

The minute-long ad featured images of average Americans, ranging from military members to fishermen to teachers to horse wranglers, all seemingly working hard for the betterment of the nation.

Footage of a Dodge Ram barreling through the rain and mud was also spliced into the narrative at several points throughout the ad.

The King Center in Atlanta, a nonprofit founded by King’s wife Coretta Scott King, immediately took to Twitter to distance itself from the ad alongside King’s youngest daughter, Bernice.

“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,” a tweet from the center’s official account read. Bernice responded directly to one Twitter user who demanded to know whether “the King children allowed Dr. King’s voice to be used to sell [him] a Dodge truck.”

“No,” King’s youngest daughter tweeted succinctly.

As it turns out, Intellectual Properties Management, Inc., the company that manages the former civil rights leader’s intellectual property, approved the use of King’s speech in the ad.

“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,” the company said in a statement released Monday. “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,” the statement continues. “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.”

King’s son Dexter Scott King is the CEO of Intellectual Properties Management, Inc., which is also the only licensor of the estate of the late civil rights leader.

In a since-deleted YouTube post, Nathan Robinson, editor-in-chief of Current Affairs, overlaid the Dodge ad with another part of King’s same speech that condemned capitalism and in particular, car advertisements.

“Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion,” King said. “And 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. … I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car. … I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America.”

In This Article: Super Bowl

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