Ram tried to use a Martin Luther King Jr. speech to sell trucks in a Super Bowl advertisement on Sunday.
The minute-long ad features a clip of King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, which he delivered 50 years ago on Feb. 4, 1968. The audio plays over dramatic shots of athletes training, soldiers reuniting with families and kids learning in classrooms.
“If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful,” King’s voice says. “But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.”
Just after the words “a new definition of greatness,” a Ram truck comes coursing through mud and water in loving slo-mo, and it becomes clear what this video is actually about.
The ad ends with a still that reads, “Built to serve: Ram.”
People were, understandably, not very happy with the company’s attempt to profit off of one of history’s greatest social justice advocates.
“So that means the King children allowed Dr. King’s voice to be used to sell me a Dodge truck,” author Michael Arceneaux tweeted.
Bernice King, Martin Luther King’s youngest daughter, replied simply: “No.”
In a tweet posted shortly after the ad aired, The King Center clarified that they did not approve the use of King’s sermon for the Ram clip. The King Center is a resource and education center which was established by Coretta Scott King in memoriam of Martin Luther King.
“Neither @TheKingCenter nor @BerniceKing is the entity that approves the use of
#MLK’s words or imagery for use in merchandise, entertainment (movies, music, artwork, etc) or advertisement, including tonight’s @Dodge #SuperBowl commercial,” the organization tweeted.
“Black people cant kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the super bowl,” writer and comedian Akilah Hughes tweeted. “Unbelievable.”
Actor John Cusack also expressed his disappointment, tweeting: “Mlk who died striking with workers decrying militarism & imperial war makers ― used to [sell] shiny trucks with marching soldiers ― corporate America nbc nfl should be ashamed.”
Chrysler, the parent company of Ram Trucks, defended its ad in a statement Sunday night, and said it was “honored to have the privilege of working with the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate those words during the largest TV viewing event annually.” The automaker added: “Estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process every step of the way.”
Below are some more reactions to Ram’s ad.
This article has been updated to include a statement from Chrysler and a statement from The King Center.
CORRECTION: This article previously stated that Ram Trucks was currently affiliated with the Dodge brand. Ram Trucks split from the Dodge brand in 2009. Chrysler owns both Dodge and Ram Trucks.