Ram created one of the most divisive and derided ads of Super Bowl Sunday with its 60-second spot featuring the voice of Martin Luther King Jr., talking about the importance of service.
Many Twitter users blasted the ad as commercial exploitation of a Civil Rights icon, and the brand issued a statement before the night was over, saying, “We worked closely with the representatives of the Martin Luther King Jr. estate to receive the necessary approvals, and estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process every step of the way.”
But one critic found an even more pointed way than an angry tweet to highlight the uncomfortable connection between a Super Bowl ad and MLK, who often criticized the business community for its materialism and role in maintaining inequality.
Nathan J. Robinson, editor of a site called Current Affairs and a doctoral student in sociology at Harvard who majored in African-American studies at Brandeis University, replaced the Ram ad’s voice-over with another segment of the same King speech, his 1968 sermon on “The Drum Major Instinct.” While Ram used a portion in which King praises a life of service—which, to be sure, is the point of the sermon—the ad comes off quite differently when paired with the portion of the speech in which MLK describes the tactics of ads (and specifically car ads):
(UPDATE: Robinson’s video has since been pulled from YouTube, but we’ve embedded another version of it below.)
The replaced audio pulls from a few different segments of King’s sermon:
“They have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying,” King says in the 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. That’s the way the advertisers do it.”
“You see people over and over again with the drum major instinct taking them over. And they just live their lives trying to outdo the Joneses. They got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better and a little better-looking than Mary’s coat. And I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car.”
“‘I must be first.’ ‘I must be supreme.’ ‘Our nation must rule the world.’ And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.”
Here’s the original spot that Ram aired during the Super Bowl: