The most controversial ad of the Superbowl this year has ties to Detroit.

Whether you find the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. being used in a commercial to sell trucks tasteless or not, it’s what everyone is talking about this morning.

The minute-long ad opens after the text with a shot of a construction worker in Detroit with the Penobscot Building in the background and goes on to show clips of various people working and serving others. The speech is part of one King delivered 50 years ago (full text here).

If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. … 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. You don’t have to know the theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

Although the King Center disavowed the ad, it turns out it was approved by the “exclusive licensor” of his copyright, Intellectual Properties Management, Inc. According to Slate:

When Ram approached the King Estate with the idea of featuring Dr. King’s voice in a new “Built To Serve” commercial, we were pleasantly surprised at the existence of the Ram Nation volunteers and their efforts. We learned that as a volunteer group of Ram owners, they serve others through everything from natural disaster relief, to blood drives, to local community volunteer initiatives. Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances. We 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.

Criticism online was swift, with one person even creating an alternate ad that highlighted the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. himself wasn’t so into commercialism. That alternate take was pulled down from YouTube thanks to a copyright claim by Chrysler.

The “Drum Major Speech” speaks of the ills of keeping up with others. Here’s a pertinent excerpt, talking about spending beyond your means.

But very seriously, it goes through life; the drum major instinct is real. (Yes) And you know what else it causes to happen? It often causes us to live above our means. (Make it plain) It’s nothing but the drum major instinct. Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? (Amen) [laughter] You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford. (Make it plain) But it feeds a repressed ego.

You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income. So if you make an income of five thousand dollars, your car shouldn’t cost more than about twenty-five hundred. That’s just good economics. And if it’s a family of two, and both members of the family make ten thousand dollars, they would have to make out with one car. That would be good economics, although it’s often inconvenient. But so often, haven’t you seen people making five thousand dollars a year and driving a car that costs six thousand? And they wonder why their ends never meet. [laughter] That’s a fact.

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