Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Sunday night defended a polarizing Super Bowl ad for its Ram brand that used a Martin Luther King Jr. speech delivered 50 years ago. The spot drew criticism on social media immediately after it aired in the game's second quarter. Some observers knocked it for being tone deaf. But the company said it worked in collaboration with Martin Luther King Jr.'s estate on the spot.
"It is 50 years to the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave such a tremendous speech about the value of service. Ram 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," the company stated. "We worked closely with the representatives of the Martin Luther King Jr. estate to receive the necessary approvals and estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process every step of the way."
As the ad was being assailed on Twitter, another entity, The King Center, made it clear it had nothing to do with it. The center was founded by King's wife, Coretta Scott King, as a living memorial to the civil rights icon.
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.— The King Center (@TheKingCenter) February 5, 2018
The ad, by a Chicago-based boutique ad agency called Highdive, used the audio of an MLK speech delivered on Feb. 4, 1968, against a montage of everyday people, along with shots of the Ram 1500 truck. The ad sought to portray a message of service. On its website, Ram plugs "Ram Nation," an organization of Ram owners that engages in service projects.
But some people found the ad tasteless.
Did you seriously just appropriate Martin Luther King to sell some pickup trucks?— Will Bardwell (@willbardwell) February 5, 2018
Who the heck green lighted that tastesless commercial? Fire them before the end of the game and issue an apology.— stop it (@planoldtired) February 5, 2018
But other people came to Ram's defense.
I see the ad as their trying to show respect to black ppl, military and sell their product. Maybe it wasn't perfect to you but I'm not offended that they tried.— BigShirley (@SNLDREAMS) February 5, 2018
Ram is not the first automaker to incorporate Reverend King in an ad. General Motors in 2006 used him, along with images of Muhammad Ali and others in a spot for its Chevy Silverado. Mercedes-Benz also used footage of King in a 2010 ad.