By: Molly Kavanaugh
The Super Bowl is the advertising industry’s biggest stage of the year and with that, brands must put forward their best marketing strategies. As a staple of American culture, Super Bowl commercials attract audiences from all over the nation, and the world. Some brands disregard all ethical issues simply to make a statement with their commercial. There have been a number of advertisements throughout the years that have not translated positively to the public, and in result, have crashed and burned. With the recent passing of the 2020 Super Bowl commercials that have failed tragically have begun to resurface on platforms such as Twitter. On February 4th, 2018, a Super Bowl advertisement by Ram Trucks publicizing their brand new truck featured ethically questionable conduct. The poor display of advertising demonstrated inappropriate content and advertising techniques that caused the commercial to miss the mark completely. Ram Trucks used the slogan “Ram Built To Serve,” and compared Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s famous “Drum Major Instinct” sermon to buying a Ram truck in order to serve the greater good of the world. Since King was not alive to approve this advertisement, an ethical dilemma arose. By marketing their brand using King’s sermon, which affected so many people around the world, Ram Trucks crossed a line between honest advertising and sleazy advertising. This caused the message of the advertisement to be unclear and therefore, create an ethical dilemma.
Ram Trucks quickly responded to defend their actions by stating that they had worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s estate, which manages all of his intellectual property, including his speeches. Although King’s family, including his own daughter, have stated that they did not allow for the use of King’s voice in this advertisement, Ram Trucks went forward with the commercial. By attempting to sell trucks, using the wise words once pronounced by Martin Luther King Jr., Ram Trucks crossed some basic ethical boundaries in social media, merely to promote their product.
So how far is too far to go in terms of what goes into a Super Bowl commercial? Is it ok for brands to combine both the good and the bad to promote their products or company?
And was Ram Trucks in the wrong ethically by broadcasting this commercial, even though they had the rights to use King’s voice?
In an advertising market as big as the Super Bowl, brands should be more careful in the content that they release to the public. By using simple ethical guidelines, brands can avoid confusion surrounding their advertisements and have a successful campaign rather than one that fails due to ethical issues.