Brow Beat

Just When You Thought That Martin Luther King Jr. Truck Commercial Couldn’t Get Any Worse, It Gets So Much Worse

A Ram truck drives through mud.
“I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit.”
Still taken from the commercial.

I hope Ram Trucks is a big believer in the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” because they sure are getting a lot of it. The company has already been heavily criticized for a commercial that aired on Sunday for using part of a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. to promote its brand. While Ram Trucks had the approval of King’s estate, using the words of a civil rights hero to sell a product didn’t sit right with many viewers, particularly during the Super Bowl, for some reason.

What’s even worse, King was an outspoken critic of capitalism—and actually decried car advertisers later in the very same speech used in the commercial. An re-edited version of the ad by Nathan Robinson has changed the voiceover to reflect King’s actual thoughts on buying and selling cars, and, well, the results speak for themselves.

Here’s the portion of the speech that Ram Trucks used for their ad:

If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness […] By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. […] You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve, you don’t have to know the theory of relativity to serve, you don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

Here’s the part of the speech that Robinson used in his edit:

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. […] “I’ve got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car.”[…] 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.

Yikes.

Marissa Martinelli

Marissa Martinelli is a Slate editorial assistant