Earlier, we shared all five of the ads Fiat Chrysler Automobiles aired during last night’s NBC Super Bowl broadcast – a collection that included three television spots for the automaker’s rugged Jeep brand, and two for RAM trucks. One of those RAM ads, which poked fun at the Minnesota Vikings for narrowly missing out on the chance to play in Super Bowl LII, doesn’t seem likely to have offended much of anyone – save for a few diehard Vikings fans with very thin skin, perhaps.
The other RAM TV spot was a hotbed for controversy, however, as it used the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The commercial, which can be seen above, used an excerpt from the “Drum Major Instinct” sermon delivered by King 50 years prior on February 4th, 1968. The sermon was about acting to serve one’s fellow man, and the all-new, 2019 RAM 1500, the commercial seemed to say, was built to help people serve.
The message is innocuous, but there is a certain tactlessness that comes with using the words of a deceased man – especially one so pivotal in the 1960s American Civil Rights movement – to sell trucks. The irony that the ad aired during an NFL game, at the end of a season fraught with controversy over players’ protesting systemic black oppression and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem, is hard to overstate.
But even more ironic is what’s contained in the rest of Dr. King’s sermon.
Advertisers “have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying,” King said later in his sermon. “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’ve] got to drive this car because [there’s] something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car.”
In other words, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon specifically called out car advertisers in the next breath. Whether or not the 2019 RAM 1500 was indeed “built to serve,” FCA’s truck brand would have been better off finding another speech.