If the company had, it would have realized MLK’s speech was actually a takedown of the same consumerism and conspicuous consumption Ram was peddling. And not just in the abstract: MLK literally called out automotive advertisers for pushing the lie that buying expensive material goods leads to greater personal fulfillment.
Nathan Robinson, editor in chief of the policy journal Current Affairs, decided to highlight that hypocrisy by re-dubbing Ram’s commercial with a slightly different part of MLK’s sermon, and, well ― you be the judge of what better represents King’s message:
Here’s King’s quote from the slightly different version above:
Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. 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 ...
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’m 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.
And here’s Ram’s original ad, for the sake of comparison:
“I re-dubbed the commercial to show people the real Martin Luther King, who was a radical critical of consumer capitalism,” Robinson told HuffPost in an email. “King’s words are constantly taken out of context and manipulated in order to imply that he supported things he actually opposed. Having his voice manipulate people into buying Dodge Rams is just the latest and most absurd recurrence of the tendency.”
Robinson encouraged readers to study Martin Luther King’s body of work for themselves instead of relying on the filtered versions that percolate through the media.
In “The Drum Major Instinct,” King wasn’t pushing the individualism that comes across in Ram’s commercial. Robinson argued it was actually the opposite.
″[King] wasn’t offering uplifting platitudes about individualism; he was trying to show us how to actually be better people, and trying to discourage us from finding meaning in actions like the purchase of fancy pickup trucks,” he said.
“What we saw with the Dodge commercial is a common tendency of advertising, which plays on people’s emotions in order to get them to make irrational choices.”
Fiat Chrysler, the parent company of Ram, which used to be a Dodge marque, defended its use of the quote in a statement to Ad Age on Sunday night:
“It is 50 years to the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave such a tremendous speech about the value of service. Ram 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,” Fiat Chrysler stated. “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.”