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That MLK speech used in Ram’s car ad? It goes on to criticize car ads.

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In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ram truck owners also believe in a life of serving others.

A Ram Trucks Super Bowl ad sampling audio from a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon sparked swift criticism online, despite being licensed by the late civil rights leaders’ estate.

But even if King’s words received proper approval for use to sell Ram automobiles, the speech quoted in the ad itself — The Drum Major Instinctdelivered 50 years ago this month — suggests King himself may not have endorsed it.

“Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers,” King said in the speech. “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.  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. That’s the way the advertisers do it.”

Ram Trucks didn’t use that portion of the speech in its ad, which features images of hard-working Americans interspersed with Ram Trucks.

Ram instead opted for an earlier line quoting Jesus: “But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” It ends with a tagline about the trucks: “Built to serve.”

Intellectual Properties Management (IPM), the licensor of King’s works on behalf of the King estate, issued a comment on its approval process of the ad. Its director, Eric D. Tidwell, praised a volunteer corps launched by the brand called Ram Nation, and said the ad “met our standard integrity clearances.”

“We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others,” Tidwell said. “Thus we decided to be a part of Ram’s ‘Built To Serve’ Super Bowl program.”

Ram’s owner, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, also issued a statement describing King’s Estate playing “a very important part of the creative process” behind the ad.

Ironically, in King’s full speech, he goes on to lament seeing people purchasing cars outside their means, mentioning Chrysler by name.

“Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income?” King said. “You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford. But it feeds a repressed ego.”

Tidwell, the director of IPM, declined to comment on how much a company like Ram Trucks might pay to license King’s speech for such an ad.

The Drum Major Institute, a progressive policy group whose board includes Martin Luther King III, the leader’s eldest child, issued a statement Monday disavowing the ad.

“In a twist of irony, one of the specific evils Dr. King condemned was the exploitation of the drum major instinct by advertisers, particularly car advertisers,” wrote William B. Wachtel, the group’s co-founder.

The King Center, the Atlanta-based nonprofit dedicated to King’s legacy, denied approving the use of King’s words in the commercial in a tweet Sunday night, stating that neither it nor CEO Bernice King, the leader’s youngest child, “is the entity that approves the the use of MLK’s words” for advertisements.

 
Amid the online criticism of the ad Sunday night, one Twitter claimed King’s children allowed his voice to be used in the ad. Bernice King responded with a single word: “No.”

Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner

More: People are hating the Ram Super Bowl ad using MLK’s speech. This is why.

 

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