There's little surprise that Ram drew the ire of the public with their Super Bowl ad utilizing audio from a speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr., with many calling it insensitive. But the automaker fired back at their critics almost immediately.
"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," said Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in a statement to AdAge. "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."
The King Center, which was founded by MLK's wife Coretta Scott King, took to Twitter to point out that they don't have approval rights for use of MLK's words or images, while King's daughter responded with a simple "no" when asked if she'd given her approval.
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.
Intellectual Properties is the "exclusive licensor" of MLK's estate, and managing director Eric D. Tidwell responded to the backlash via a statement received by Slate. "When Ram approached the King Estate with the idea of featuring Dr. King's voice in a new 'Built To Serve' commercial, we were pleasantly surprised at the existence of the Ram Nation volunteers and their efforts," he said. "We learned that as a volunteer group of Ram owners, they serve others through everything from natural disaster relief, to blood drives, to local community volunteer initiatives. Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances. We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King's philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others. Thus we decided to be a part of Ram's 'Built To Serve' Super Bowl program."
The original ad featured King's words over typical images of Americana, including people riding horses, holding babies, teaching, volunteering and, of course, driving big trucks. See the full ad below: