In a five-ad Super Bowl blitz, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles used a Martin Luther King Jr. speech, a classic scene from "Jurassic Park" and Queen's "We Will Rock You" to pitch the Jeep and Ram brands.
But the MLK ad drew heat on social media with some critics accusing the automaker of appropriating the civil rights leader's words for commercial gain.
“MLK wanted equal rights and for me to buy a Dodge Ram,” one Twitter user wrote. Another used said: “Black people cant kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the super bowl. Unbelievable.”
"Not sure MLK’s dream was to drive a Dodge Ram," another Twitter user opined.
"Using MLK Jr. speeches to sell trucks during Black History Month?," wrote Britt Julious, also on Twitter.
FCA's approach with the ad hued to tactics long used by global chief marketing officer Olivier Francois, who is fond of calling on historical figures and movie and music stars backed by montages of vehicles and everyday people. He also has a tendency to source ideas from a wide array of agencies, often making last-minute decisions on the winners.
The ad, which wasn’t released early, contrasted with the humor many other brands adopt for Super Bowl pitches.
Ram approached the King estate about using his voice in the commercial, Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, the licensor of the estate, according to The New York Times.
“Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances,” Tidwell said in a statement to the Times on Sunday. “We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”
Adding to the disconnect for some viewers, the speech, delivered 50 years ago on Feb 4, 1968 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, touched on the danger of overspending on goods such as cars and openly suggested why American consumers “are so often taken by advertisers.”
The Super Bowl ad didn't include the part from King’s sermon, an adaptation of the 1952 homily ‘‘Drum-Major Instincts’’ by J. Wallace Hamilton, a well-known, liberal, white Methodist preacher, where he warns against the dangers of spending too much when buying a car and not trying to keep up with the Joneses.
“Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford,” King said in the sermon. “But it feeds a repressed ego. You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income. So if you make an income of $5,000, your car shouldn’t cost more than about $2,500. That’s just good economics.”
In a statement Sunday, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S. said: “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, the Atlanta-based nonprofit dedicated to King's legacy, in a tweet denied approving the use of King's words in the commercial, USA Today reported.
This year's FCA ad lineup for the Super Bowl included ads from agencies that have previously worked with the automaker, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, FCB Chicago and DDB Chicago. But two newcomers on FCA also made the cut, Arnold Worldwide and Highdive, a six-person, Chicago-based boutique agency led by two DDB Chicago veterans, Mark Gross and Chad Broude.
FCA's ads, totaling 240 seconds, tied Anheuser-Busch InBev for the most air time during the game.
David Phillips contributed to this report.