Use of Dr. King’s voice caused outrage

Apparently there is a huge outrage over Dodge Ram’s Super Bowl commercial featuring the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I watched the commercial and rewatched it a few times and frankly can’t find cause for outrage.

I get being sensitive, but let’s not act like Dodge committed a cardinal sin.

I’m the kind of guy that gets chills down my back every time I hear Dr. King’s voice. Each time I hear a speech or read a quote, it moves me. Most times to tears. One of the most progressive and effective thought leaders of his time and mine. To know that someone paid $5 million dollars to air a few lines from one of his speeches during the premier television event of the year in front of such a diverse audience…my heart was happy. Unfortunately, because a few people chose to get offended, Dr. King’s voice got lost in the crowd. In the meantime Chef Gordon Ramsey getting bleeped out, Cardi B rapping and Rebel Wilson “setting the mood” got more applause.

The commercial’s first frame told the whole story to me. It celebrated the 50th anniversary of his speech. The commercial focused on service to others. Dodge has long used this mantra. I’m sure it made perfect sense to use Dr. King’s legacy of serving others, combined with Black History Month, combined with this unique 50th anniversary to promote his dream. I personally was so moved by the message, I didn’t find time to be offended.

From the perspective of “using” Dr. King to sell trucks, I can understand the sentiment, but point out that Dodge and many other companies have long used icons like Dr. King for many years. A simple search on Google or YouTube will bring up many videos that tear at your heartstrings over social, civil and popular issues. I briefly watch Top 10 Most Heartwarming Super Bowl Commercials of All Time which truly has some heartwarming commercials.

A quick list shows the following:

  • Carnival Cruise using JFK’s voice to sell vacations
  • Budweiser using a Soldier’s Homecoming to sell beer
  • Always using “Girls confidence during puberty” #LikeAGirl to sell tampons
  • Coca Cola using America the Beautiful in different languages to sell a soft drink
  • Chevy used World Cancer Day to sell trucks
  • Dodge used Paul Harvey’s Voice and Farmer story to sell trucks
  • Budweiser used tragic events of 9/11 to sell more beer

Even though this isn’t an exhaustive list, it does help paint the picture that this is nothing new and has been generally accepted for years. I don’t know what would make any of these more acceptable than that of using Dr. King’s voice.

Furthermore, I don’t know why Dr. King’s voice or image should be mutually exclusive. The only difference here is that Dr. King has and likely always will stand on an island by himself as it relates to the moral high ground of civil and human rights.

Moreover, every year on Dr. King Day…every single company with a social media account will post an image, quote, video or something else to honor and commemorate Dr. King. This is always, first and foremost, about building their brand and selling their product. Every politician does this, every CEO does this, everyone does this and it is accepted and expected.

We do this on 9/11 #NeverForget, we do this on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day and for special holidays…especially culturally sensitive religious holidays. We do it when someone dies or celebrates a birth or birthday. We do it on national days and everyone wears pink in October!

I saw a tweet that pointed out in order for Dr. King’s voice to be used…someone from his family had to say ok. Unless Dodge used his voice without permission, they would be the first ones to make a big deal out of it. Whether or not every member of the King family agrees with the use of his voice, it was certainly approved.

I also saw discussions about Dr. King’s perspective on capitalism, the background behind that particular speech and to use his voice in a commercial goes against everything he believes in. I come back to my original point that every company in the world pauses on Dr. King Day every year to acknowledge Dr. King.

To take that a step further and put Dr. King’s voice on the largest stage of the year, a Super Bowl commercial, in my opinion, is more genius than offensive. The only difference would be if Dodge chose not to put its logo on the ad and let it stand by itself. I literally see nothing more offensive here than a commercial that celebrates the homecoming of soldiers or a woman recovering from cancer or girls struggling with self-esteem or using different languages to sing America the Beautiful.

In the same Super Bowl, Prince’s image and voice were used during the halftime show, sponsored by Pepsi, veterans were honored and thousands of people received free tickets to the game by sponsors that wanted to honor them, recognize them and reward them…which all comes back to advertising dollars.

All of my life I have seen historical icons and famous people used and referenced in advertising to include presidents, poets, educators, military leaders, and many others to include civil rights leaders and even Jesus Christ.

I can’t imagine those that are offended would say that we are allowed to quote Dr. King only once a year…on his holiday. The counter-productive nature of that ideal is simply outrageous. To say we want you to think of Dr. King all of the time and promote his values and carry his dream forward…but only if we don’t get offended on how you do it. Should I point out that Dr. King was black and this was Black History Month?

When will we stop working so hard to be offended and work harder to share and seek understanding? We’re offended…how about we share what it meant to us and why? Try to have conversations or use your tweets to promote understanding. You may not get as many “likes” but you’ll do your part in helping others to appreciate your world view.