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Ram Super Bowl commercial featuring King speech draws criticism

MEMPHIS — Ram Trucks used a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. in a Super Bowl commercial and it didn't sit well with some viewers.

The commercial featured King's speech from 50 years ago at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta against several scenes. There were kids playing football, fishermen, members of the military, a teacher and students in a classroom, and a firefighter lifting a child over his shoulder.

"But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's the new definition of greatness," MLK can be heard saying. "By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve."

MLK's sermon, "The Drum Major Instinct," concludes with the message that to serve "you only need a heart full of grace. Soul generated by love."

Ram's slogan "Built to Serve" then appears on screen.

Some viewers felt it was distasteful to use the civil rights leader's speech to advertise trucks.

"I don't know if Dodge ram should've used it the way they did. They're selling the truck, but they're using the military and MLK to their advantage to try and sell it. I don't know if that's a really good selling point," Memphis resident Chris Hill said.

However, not everyone was upset about the commercial.

"Anytime you can get Dr. King's message out there it's important for all of us to listen, and it moved me. It doesn't bother me about the car. I felt the message needed to be said," Mississippi resident Nicole Emery said.

Following the backlash, the King Estate said in a statement that it had reviewed the ad before it aired to make sure it met its standards and "found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King's philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others."

"Thus we decided to be a part of Ram's 'Built To Serve' Super Bowl program," the King Estate said.

Fiat Chrysler, which owns Ram, released a statement which said, "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave such a tremendous speech about the value of service. Ram was honored to have the privilege of working with the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate those words."

The car company went on to say they got all necessary approval from the estate.

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis often provides a voice for Dr. King's messages. Spokesperson Faith Morris said she also would've approved the commercial if she had a say.

"The images showed people doing good, providing service and doing the right things. It was diverse in showing all kinds of situations where there's need," she said. "If you're going to do it with the right intentions of what Dr. King's messages are about, that potentially is a good example."

The automaker has often used message-driven Super Bowl ads with themes that touch on things like the economy and the farming industry.