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Howard Univ. Professor: Using MLK's Voice To Sell Trucks ‘Ironic'

A Super Bowl commercial featuring a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. stirred up strong reactions on social media and from visitors to the MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The commercial from Dodge for a Ram pickup truck pairs positive images with positive words. However, critics called the ad crass commercialism.

The ad used a speech from King given on Feb. 4, 1968, about greatness and service. The ad began with King saying, "If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant...."

It ends with a Ram logo and the words, “Built to serve.”

Throughout the ad, emotional Images of a fireman rescuing a child, a pregnant woman receiving a sonogram, and a service member reuniting with a family member were shown.

Dr. Gregg Carr, chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Howard University, said the use of that King speech for an ad selling pickup trucks is ironic.

"The whole speech exists as a critique of how branding is used even in social movements," Carr said.

He said parts of the speech caution against material trappings, like spending too much on a car. While the ad seeks to stress the importance of service and social responsibility, the point of the ad is to sell pickup trucks, Carr said.

King’s daughter, Bernice King, said she nor the King Center have the authority to approve the use of her father’s words or images for merchandise, music or entertainment. A spokesperson from Ram Truck's parent company, FCA US, responded to an email inquiry and stated that Ram Truck was given permission to use Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice by his estate.

Visitors to the memorial said the use of the civil rights leader’s voice in an ad does not seem appropriate.

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