The Martin Luther King Jr. Estate Responds to Super Bowl Ad Controversy

February 5, 2018 Updated: February 5, 2018

The estate of Martin Luther King Jr. responded to the controversy over a Super Bowl ad that featured audio of one of King’s sermons.

The ad featured King’s words over images of people and their everyday struggles. The rousing speech talks about the importance of everyday people living their life in service to others.

The clip ends with King saying “you only need a heart full of grace, soul generated by love,” before the Ram Trucks logo and the words “Built to Serve” show up on screen.

According to The New York Times, what irked people is the use of King’s words in an ad that is meant to sell trucks. The King Center, an organization run by King’s daughter in Atlanta, Georgia, sought to dismiss the ad as having anything to do with her or the center.

“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,” via The King Center.

But Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the owner of Ram Trucks, said that the ad was not haphazardly pushed out.

“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,” Fiat Chrysler said in a statement obtained by the Times.

The managing director of a company responsible for licensing from King’s estate, Eric D. Tidwell, confirmed that Fiat Chrysler didn’t make this commercial in a vacuum.

“Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances,” Mr. Tidwell said in a statement obtained by the Times. “We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”

Twitter users took various sides on the issue. Some who commented on the post by The King Center said that the more Dr. King’s words are heard the better. Twitter user BigShirley argued with others below the video ad, posted by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and said that no other Super Bowl advertiser chose to recognize King or Black History Month, and that the commercial exposes more people to King’s inspirational speeches.

According to Twitter user Fatima, the licensor uses Dr. King’s intellectual property precisely to make a profit from it.

“Intellectual Properties Management is a for-profit corporation based in Atlanta, Georgia.[1] It is the exclusive licensor of the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[2] and its CEO is Dexter Scott King.[3]”



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