If you thought the lack of kneeling at this year’s Super Bowl meant that the night would be free of political controversy, think again. This time it wasn’t the players that drew the ire of some Americans, but the commercials – a particular commercial, actually.
Dodge came under fire after releasing an ad for its Ram trucks which featured excerpts from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech (The Drum Major Instinct, which can be read in full here) as its voiceover, employing the tagline “Built To Serve” to tie into the speech’s underlying message. Unbeknownst to many in the online outrage mob, the speech was given on February 4, 1968, exactly half a century prior to yesterday’s Super Bowl, and was made with the input and approval of the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Although Dodge reportedly made the ad with the intention of celebrating Dr. King’s legacy, many Americans blasted the motor company’s ad as a tragic faux pas and opined that the context of Dr. King’s words were being manipulated for the sake of capital gain.
Thankfully, the criticism was not universal. In his piece for The Daily Wire, Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro argued that among other things, the ad’s purpose of spreading Martin Luther King Jr.’s message is a good thing. Moreover, he argued that King’s message is not diminished simply because of its inclusion in an ad for trucks:
“Perhaps it’s good that a major American company just spent tens of millions of dollars to broadcast audio of MLK talking about virtue.”
“King took hold of the flag and called on Americans to live up to its ideals. Promoting racial unity and King’s central message of goodness shouldn’t be bashed just because some players make the foolish public relations error of insulting cherished symbols of national unity for political purposes.”
Shapiro makes some valid points. Frankly, in current times, this nation would do well to hear Dr. King’s words and abide by them. There is an absurd amount of divisiveness and hatred in America, to which Dr. King was always vehemently opposed.
The choice of this speech does not come without its irony, however. In that very same speech Dr. King also spoke out against the excesses of the advertising industry, even using cars as an example to make his point:
“Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. 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.”
Despite this surface irony, this is a case where the broader message is more important than a minor technicality. Given what we KNOW about how and why the commercial was made, the standing for genuine outrage remains incredibly flimsy.
Thus far, Dodge Ram has yet to come out and issue a public apology, despite the backlash. Let’s hope it stays that way. This was intended to be a simple reminder about the virtues of service. As Americans we would all do well to remember Dr. King’s message, and realize that it applies to all of us.