Ram Trucks’ MLK-inspired Super Bowl commercial met with online protest

A scene from Ram Trucks’ “Built to Serve” Super Bowl ad.
Ram Truck Brand via AP
A scene from Ram Trucks’ “Built to Serve” Super Bowl ad.

It wouldn’t be a Super Bowl without some funny, flashy, even heartwarming commercials. But one seriously missed the mark, according to the Twitterverse. 

In a Ram Trucks ad titled “Built to Serve,” the company used audio of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon — given to his congregation in Atlanta exactly 50 years before Super Bowl Sunday — over videos of volunteers distributing food, a firefighter rescuing a child from a blaze — and a Ram truck plowing through a storm, spraying mud and water. 

The commercial’s intent seemingly was to draw from King’s message of service, evident in the inclusion of King’s voice reading out, “But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.” Folks on social media, however, quickly realized that one of these things is not like the other. 


The entirety of the sermon speaks out against capitalism and the glorification of materialism, and at one point King addresses car commercials directly. 

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“And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in . . . the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. . . . 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. . . . And you know, before you know it, you're just buying that stuff. That's the way the advertisers do it.”

Following the backlash, Ram Trucks tweeted a statement that the spot had the full support of the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr., the entity with the licensing power over King’s works and intellectual property, and that it “was honored to have the privilege . . . to celebrate those words during the largest TV viewing event annually.” 

It looks like Ram could have learned a thing or two from Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial fiasco from last year.

Kaitlyn Locke can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @ke_locke