The Superbowl is America’s highest secular holiday, a day where we celebrate the holy trinity of violence, fatty snacks, and great ads. This year a 30-second spot during the Superbowl ran for a cool 5 mil. Just like the teams on the field, advertisers have to go big or go home. Making a play for the woke heart of America, Ram trucks gave us this spot, voiced over by none other than Martin Luther King, Jr himself.
Yup, this ad went too far in pairing the eloquent and weighty words of a civil rights icon with a five thousand pound piece of environment-destroying metal with a lovely crew cab. The pairing is as good as strawberry milk and shrimp: the MLK voiceover is too meaningful to stuff its authenticity into a pickup truck and the truck ad does nothing to add to our understanding of the great leader. Lose-lose, just like the
The twitter machine is already chewing Dodge a new ass for the ad, and the King estate has confirmed that they had no part in lending the icon’s voice to the advertiser. By tomorrow, the tepid apology or some version of a mea culpa will slap back the controversy and we’ll move on to the next.
Advertisers are riding a razor-thin line when they leverage the political and social upheaval in the zeitgeist for their ads. Those who are in touch with their audience and talking with them instead of at them can really use the moment to show an authentic connection with their consumers. This T Mobile ad that also ran during the Superbowl tried to connect with consumers who care about a number of movements:
Brands are best when they jump into movements to get important messages out without hoeing out the message for the sake of the brand. In case you missed it Burger King did just that recently with their whopper neutrality ad:
You’ve got to get in the game if you want to win, so brands are bold to not shy away from what is happening in the world. But to actually win, you have to do your homework. Companies do themselves and the movements they purport to care about a disservice when they use social change as a costume they try on to sell soda or soap or trucks. Stripping the important events of our time and filling it with the same capitalist messages that have fed the inequality leading to this moment can leave audiences upset, brands tarnished and important social moments cheapened. Do better Ram, or stick with your Vikings.