Hello Meltingpot Readers,
I’m just going to get this out of the way right now. I’m not an Eagles fan. The truth is, I don’t really care about football at all. There I said it. But I do live in Philadelphia. I love a good underdog story and I will pretty much go anywhere for a party that makes no apologies for featuring buttloads of processed food. So, of course I was at a Super Bowl party last night but my main focus was on the commercials, not the game.
So, there I was, sitting with my plate full of pulled pork, guacamole, chips and nachos when I heard an unmistakable voice. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. and the television screen was showing inspiring images of earnest looking people of every race doing honest work. I stopped chewing so I could focus on the images, and the music, and that voice. Soon the entire room fell silent under the spell of this commercial. It all felt so “American,” so gritty and real, but we didn’t know exactly why. We didn’t know what we were being sold, but it had to be good. It had to be important because Martin Luther King Jr’s voice means something. Doesn’t it? Maybe this was an ad paid for by some Anti-Trump organization, I thought. Nope, not even close. It was a freaking car commercial! For Dodge Ram. I know. Boggles the mind. Here are the questions that immediately sprang into my head once it was clear I had been bamboozled by Dodge.
1. Who at the ad agency for Dodge thought it was a good idea to use the most important African-American, 20th-century, civil-rights figure to sell trucks? And I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I see a big ol’ Dodge truck on the road, my first instinct is to check for a confederate flag and/ or a gun rack. In other words, I don’t see the target demographic of Dodge trucks being all that into MLK anyway, so what was the thinking from a marketing perspective? And clearly I know people of all ethnic backgrounds buy trucks, but really. Are they the type to be moved by Martin? Maybe, Dodge was trying to woo more people of color to buy their brand? I don’t know, but I’d call this a marketing fail on so many levels.
2. Who in the King family okayed this hot mess of an advertisement? Quickly followed by, I wonder how much money was made for the transaction? As it turns out, the King family was not responsible for granting permission to use Dr. King’s speech. According to this story in the New York Times, “ Ram approached Dr. King’s estate about using his voice in the commercial, said Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, the licenser of the estate.
“Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances,” Mr. Tidwell said in a statement. “We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.” So, blame Mr. Tidwell for approving this message.
3. Last question. Why do people think Black people fighting for justice and equality are okay to be used for commercial gain, but not for, say, actually getting some justice and equality? Marinate on that for a minute and if you have an answer, I’m listening.
If I had to give Dodge some free advice for the next time they’re thinking big for a Super Bowl commercial and they want to find some inspiring words that would appeal to their core audience, I’d say stay away from slain Civil Rights leaders. Cross Malcolm X off your list. Maybe try looking at song lyrics by some Country Western singers. They write heartfelt and earnest speeches, only they put their words to music in a song. It may sound crazy, but a song might just work for a commercial to sell trucks. Here’s another idea. Borrow a speech from an athlete. Athletes say things that sound inspiring and might make people want to buy a truck. And you probably wouldn’t offend anyone either. I’m just freestylin’ here with the ideas, but Dodge, you’re free to use any one of them. You’re welcome.
(And just for the record, I’m really happy the Eagles finally won a Super Bowl.)
Here’s the ad so you can see it for yourself. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments.