DOUG CARPENTER | INSIDE MEMPHIS BUSINESS
In Dodge Ram’s “Built to Serve” advertisement, which publicly appeared for the first time during Sunday’s Super Bowl, truck imagery is placed at the forefront of the TV spot among examples of pinnacle American intergenerational and interpersonal moments, carried by a voiceover of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s February 4th, 1968 sermon on the value of public service.
To take those words and use them to sell a product is belittling to everything Dr. King represents, which is much more and much deeper than popular sound bites suggest. As a marketing professional, I don’t know how else to say it: conflating your brand identity with an intellectual and spiritual world icon is, quite simply, obscene.
Some have compared the ad to other “inspirational” messaging efforts, including Ram’s previous “God Made A Farmer” ad. The key difference is understanding whose message is being shared and what it was intended to express. King’s fundamental, externally focused definition of service and Ram’s marketing-driven definition are on opposite sides of the spectrum. The merchandising of a gripping sermon and monumental figure distracts from, if not mocks, that sermon’s intended message.
Dr. King’s focus on income equality and ethical business leadership was a defining aspect of his work to elevate our most vulnerable citizens. In their efforts to align their brand with the rhetorical power of this leader, Ram actually reinforced King’s own message. They unintentionally pointed out the hypocrisy of a multinational corporation exploiting a slain icon of the working class to increase their revenue.
Dodge Ram took advantage of a historical, emotional opportunity on the 50th anniversary of a breaking point in the Civil Rights Movement, which will be respectfully commemorated in Memphis and elsewhere this April. But it should have been clear from the beginning that it wasn’t their moment to take.