Exploiting social justice issues to sell product is inappropriate and distasteful
By OLIVIA TAYLOR
On Super Bowl Sunday, Dodge Motor Company placed one of its advertisements in the coveted lineup for one of the sports industry’s biggest days. Each Super Bowl ad can cost millions of dollars for just 30 seconds and so companies try to make the best and most effective as they can for the big game. This year however, Ram missed the mark.
This year Ram went with a more serious and inspiring theme for its Super Bowl commercial. The ad contained an excerpt of an audio recording from a February, 4th 1968 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 50 years to the day of Super Bowl 52. In this speech, King touched on the ideas of what it means to be great, and how being able to serve others is the greatest demonstration of greatness. The ad contains several video clips of inspiring scenes such as one of firefighters pulling a child from a burning building and a soldier running into a military helicopter. It also contains clips of every day servants like a teacher in a classroom, and a sister helping her younger brother get dressed. And of course, periodically there are splashes of a Ram truck driving through a muddy puddle. Wait- what?
Using the inspirational words of Dr. King to sell trucks is quite frankly very inappropriate. There is merit in inspiring people to be the best they can be and to trying to make a positive impact in the world, but doing that by exploiting some of the highly sensitive issues of the time is wrong.
Not only was the ad inappropriate, but it also took the excerpt out of context. The sermon in question, delivered exactly 50 years ago, touched on the danger of overspending on items like cars and discussed why people are so often taken by advertisers.
“Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers,” said King in later in the speech. “You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. That’s the way the advertisers do it.”
This is a growing trend due to today’s social climate. With so many different social controversies in our society, exploiting these issues can be an easy way for a company to look like they are doing their part.
This practice was also criticized with regards to the #metoo movement in the recently released Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The issue featured images of naked women with different phrases such as “truth” and “natural” written on their bodies. This was just another example of corporations using social movements for their benefit without actually helping the cause. In the case of Ram, it seems as if they are exploiting the words of Dr. King and all the emotions that they evoke about social justice in order to sell more trucks.
One could possibly see how Ram intended for the ad to be a call to action, using Dr. King’s words in order to inspire the audience to take action and help serve their community. But Ram being committed to service would have been slightly more believable if they had not including clips of the trucks plowing through the rain and mud.
Senior Courtney Merson said, “It seemed kind of out of place. I saw what they were trying to do but I feel as if they missed the mark. I remember asking myself ‘what was that?’ after it aired”.
Graduate student Stuart Penninger voiced a similar sentiment: “Dodge is tone deaf and the ad was an absolute dud. Purposefully misusing/misinterpreting an MLK quote that critiques American materialism to sell a truck is incredibly stupid and asinine.”
In short, it is great that corporations want “to do their part”, but they need to actually do their part. Corporate social responsibility is very important but exploiting issues within our society to either make yourself look better and increase sales is never the responsible way to go.