ATLANTA (Reuters) - A TV commercial shown during the Super Bowl that used the voice of the late Martin Luther King Jr. to advertise pickup trucks drew criticism from viewers who found it insulting to the memory of the revered civil rights leader.
The ad for Dodge Ram trucks, seen by millions of football fans during the game’s second quarter, uses audio from the last major speech King gave before his assassination in 1968.
“He who is greatest among you shall be your servant,” King’s resonant voice is heard saying over images of firefighters, teachers and working men and women with their trucks helping people.
Reactions came before the game ended.
“I want to punch that Dodge commercial in the face,” wrote one Twitter user with the handle sreeker.
Lawyer Cat posted on Twitter: “I’m no civil rights scholar, but I’m pretty sure MLK never had a dream to be featured in a Dodge Ram commercial.”
Others placed messages of support on Dodge Ram’s Facebook page. User Justin Newman posted: “Well done, and a great commercial.”
Another Facebook user posted: “Lifelong RAM owner. You’ve made me proud.”
But the backlash remarks were in the majority. “Martin Luther King DID NOT march in Selma so you could use his speech to sell trucks,” Lori Borgen posted on the company’s Facebook page.
Representatives from Dodge Ram and parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles were not immediately available for comment.
The King Center in Atlanta posted on Twitter early on Monday that it did not approve the advertisement.
“Neither @TheKingCenter nor @BerniceKing is the entity that approves the use of #MLK’s words or imagery for use in merchandise, entertainment (movies, music, artwork, etc) or advertisement, including tonight’s @Dodge #SuperBowl commercial,” the tweet read.
But King’s estate, not the non-profit King Center, controls the civil rights leader’s speeches and recordings. Neither representatives for the estate nor King’s surviving children were immediately available for comment.
Ram Trucks representatives told ABC News, Forbes and other media that the company had received all the necessary permissions.
“Estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process,” a Ram Trucks official told Slate.com.
The use of King’s speeches, images and personal papers and items including his Bible and Nobel Peace prize are closely guarded by the estate and the subject of a long-running public feud among King’s surviving children.
Last April, PepsiCo Inc pulled a commercial featuring model Kendall Jenner using a can of the soft drink to ease tensions between protesters and riot police after the ad prompted outrage and ridicule.
Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Lisa Von Ahn