Dodge Ram unveiled a controversial 30-second commercial this past Super Bowl Sunday. Using a time slot which sells for upwards of $5 million, the ad quickly faced backlash for understandable reasons. The misdirected advertisement uses a speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to sell their trucks.
Using a montage of emotional videos of soldiers returning from war, dogs being rescued, fathers spending time with their daughters and people volunteering, the advertisement seems to imply that by buying a Ram truck, you are doing the service Dr. King emphasized in his rhetoric.
With the celebration of King’s birthday only a week prior, not only was this ad poorly-timed, it was misdirected. Dodge used a speech meant to inspire selflessness and service to sell overpriced trucks. The tactic of comparing the driver of a Ram truck to soldiers in the US military, parents and teachers clearly flew under the radar of anyone in the Ram marketing department who has any idea of what service really means.
Service isn’t driving a Dodge Ram. A truck does not do the service that King stood for. He wanted our country to serve one another. He wanted us to respect and do good for our neighbors. He most definitely would not care what kind of mileage or features your truck has.
Still in the throes of racial unrest, the last thing our country needs right now is to be told by a man like MLK that buying a truck will ensure that you’re doing your civic duty for the country. Just this past year NFL players who participated in kneeling during the National Anthem were heavily criticized by the American public and politicians. Kneeling, a form of peaceful protest, would have most likely been eagerly supported by MLK, an abounding supporter of peaceful demonstrations. To use his message to sell a product is in bad taste to say the least.
King, a known critic of consumer culture, emphasized the dangers of over-spending and being subject to the ploys of advertisement. How could Dodge have missed this? To completely ignore the opinions and beliefs of such an influential man, only to pick the most desirable lines from a speech to sell a product adds to the amount of disrespect and ignorance of this advertisement.
This is not the first time a company has tried to ride the wave of activism to throw their brand into a conversation of social relativism. Last year, Pepsi faced backlash over an ad featuring Kendall Jenner. Standing in the front line of a staged Black Lives Matter protest, with Pepsi in hand, Jenner laughs alongside other “protestors” in a half-hearted attempt to associate themselves with a movement in which they have no serious involvement.
As consumers, it’s important to be aware of how we are being manipulated by the companies that we buy from. We should not be taken advantage of, nor should platforms and causes which strive to bring social justice and improvement. We should be wary of companies which strive to woo us by using social movements which have higher moral standings than any product they could ever sell.
We cannot stoop to the level of allowing the greats of human rights and social justice to be swept into the world of marketing. MLK, and others alike, did not speak, protest, or work so hard for our country, only to be remembered by the products their voices and words eventually would be used to sell.