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All Revved Up: The Dodge Ad That Tried To Use MLK's Words To Sell Trucks

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This file photo provided by Ram Truck Brand shows a scene from the company's Super Bowl spot. The Ram truck ad that used a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., is drawing a backlash.
Ram Truck Brand via AP, File
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One Super Bowl ad from last night left many viewers scratching their heads.

The spot featured audio of one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s final speeches overlaid with images of Americans working to help others before revealing, in the final frames, that it was an advertisement for Dodge Ram trucks.

The ad was swiftly criticized online for attempting to use King's words about the values of empathy and serving others to sell cars.

"It was a huge appropriation," said Emmett Price, executive director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

"This speech was one of the last speeches [King] gave. It was February 4, 1968," Price explained. "The speech was about the ill of consumerism and the fact that consumerism was taking over the American consciousness and that we were moving away from humanity." 

"For them to use that to sell a truck — I mean, clearly they didn't listen," Price continued.

Indeed, a YouTube user uploaded the images from the ad overlaid with a different portion of that speech, which made clear King's pointed, critical message about advertising and consumerism.

But syndicated religion columnist Reverend Irene Monroe pointed out that Dodge was given permission to use King's speech by his son, Dexter King, who controls the licensing of his father's speeches and images through a company called Intellectual Property Management Inc.

"Yes, they misappropriated King's speech," Monroe said. "But we've got to understand the intellectual property of King's estate is run by his son Dexter, and Dexter gave permission for them to use that image."

Price said the ad spoke to how King's message has been sanitized in the decades since his death.

"This goes so far away from what Dr. King was trying to do in his time," Price said.

Click the audio player above to hear more from "All Revved Up."

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