The Ram Trucks commercial aired in the 2018 Super Bowl resulted in a series of controversies due to the use of a speech made by Martin Luther King Jr. Brands rely on several marketing strategies to improve the visibility of their brands and to influence customers’ perceptions regarding the products sold. However, companies need to apply ethical principles in marketing to ensure that the outcomes of the strategies applied meet the company’s expectations, while maintaining positive impressions with the consumers (Grewal and Levy 12). The Ram Trucks commercial poorly implemented rhetoric appeals in an attempt to influence consumer behavior, leading to criticism of its commercialization of a historic speech made by Martin Luther King Jr., The Drum Major Instinct.
Effective adverts rely on shared values to develop bonds with their potential consumers; however, Ram trucks theme “Built to serve” should not have been supported by the speech made by Martin Luther King Jr. (Maheshwari 1). The theme reflects values such as humility and servant leadership; nevertheless, the advert was simply an attempt to influence consumer buying behavior. Evidently, the rhetorical appeals incorporated into the advert include a reliance on the influence of words spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. Ethos involving social movements should be applied in contexts that address human rights issues, dignity, and equity.
The advert attempted to appeal to the emotions of the audience, by including video sections that signified struggle and sacrifice in servant leadership; however, a different reaction was observed across a large section of the audience. Since the brand does not represent the cheapest vehicle options in the American consumer market, there exists no link between the speech adopted and symbolic representations against commercialization trends, whereby consumers only purchase what they need as opposed to what may satisfy repressed egos. Arguably, advertising themes reflecting on a social movement should directly support the cause.
Ironically, the advert failed to include sections of the speech that addressed the dangers of commercialization and the tactics applied by advertisers to influence buying behaviors by addressing the need to satisfy repressed egos. The full speech specifically mentions that people may buy products that they cannot afford to satisfy their need for being relevant and recognized. Therefore, the Super Bowl advert directly misrepresented the words spoken by Martin Luther King Jr., tarnishing his image and use of intellectual property related to his works.
Sentiments of disgust were shared on social media channels, and the representatives of the King Center, which had been established in memory of Martin Luther King Jr., shared convictions regarding the use of intellectual property associated with the civil rights leader for advertising purposes (Bailey 1). Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. clearly expressed that she was against Ram Trucks commercial as it disrespected the memory of the civil rights leader who played an instrumental role in reducing the gap in racial disparities within the United States. Therefore, the advert may have been used to intentionally raise controversies that would sustain the brand’s products on media discussions.
Commercialization is a serious concern within capitalistic societies and the Super Bowl advert was symbolic to the degradation effect commercialization imposes on issues that matter. Racial disparities within the United States have persisted for many years; therefore, aspects of social movements should not be misrepresented. The use of a section of the Drum Major Instinct to promote commercialization directly disrespected the memory of the historic civil right leaders, leading to a poor reception among the target consumers. While the brand utilized legal means to use the speech’s content, the scenario demonstrates a case of unethical marketing whereby the sentiments of a population are not considered.
- Bailey, Pulliam. Martin Luther King Jr. Sermon Used in a Ram Truck Super VBowl Commercial Draws Backlash. Washingtonpost, www.washingtonpost.com/ Accessed 23 April 2018
- Grewal, Dhruv, and Michael Levy. Marketing. McGraw Hill Education, 2017
- Maheshwari, Sapna. Ram Trucks Commercial With Martin Luther King Jr. Sermon Is Criticized. NewYorkTimes, www.nytimes.com