Whelp, here we are again. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to use Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words for a Super Bowl ad – oh wait yes I do – but that was a mistake. At the end of the same Football season where Colin Kaepernick was both reviled and revered for starting a movement to address police brutality against minorities, Ram and their ad agency decided that it was appropriate to use one of the greatest civil rights leaders of all time to sell trucks. Let’s breakdown why that was such a mistake.
Ignoring the fact that utilizing American civil rights heroes or wading into national protests in order to sell products are generally bad ideas, using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an especially bad idea. While Dr. King is most known for his racial activism, a large part of his message was focused on economic justice. If you ask any American about The March on Washington, the first thing they will mention is the “I Have a Dream” speech. Not many will remember that the full name of the march was “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” For his message of economic equality alone, Ram should have thought twice about using Dr. King’s words. However, as if that wasn’t enough, in the same speech Ram used (The Drum Major Instinct), Dr. King preached against advertisers, and car advertisers specifically.
It didn’t take long for social media to react to the commercial. In minutes, an edited version of the commercial utilizing the section of the Drum Major Instinct in which Dr. King discusses advertisers, was posted on Twitter. Within 24 hours this tweet had received over 39,107 retweets, 65,230 likes, and 1.64M views.
While Ram has defended itself, stating that it worked with the King Estate to create the ad, it’s not a question of whether Ram could create the ad, but if they should have done so.
Since it seems like marketers are having an incredibly hard time understanding when to engage with a social movement, I’ve created a short list of do’s and don’ts.
- Try and co-opt a social movement that you have no connection to and were never part of.
- Use American icons - like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - to sell your product.
- Expect any ad that ignores rules 1 or 2 to pass by without massive criticism.
- Feel free to take a stance on political issues and discuss that stance. 66% of consumers would like companies to do just that.
- Engage with social movements in a genuine and human manner that works for your organization.
- Discuss what you have actually accomplished, rather than try to co-opt an entire movement.
Using a civil rights hero to sell cars in a Super Bowl commercial may seem absurd on its face, but it’s particularly ridiculous when said civil rights icon actually spoke out against car commercials.