Ram's First Mistake with that MLK Ad
By now, you've likely read or at least seen the headlines for articles explaining just how badly Dodge screwed the pooch with its "Built to Serve" spot during the Super Bowl. If you've been living under a rock, here's the ad in question:
There are numerous reasons this ad never should have seen the light of day, not the least of which was using a speech in which King criticized the insidious nature of advertising to try to convince people they need a nice car to impress the neighbors....to sell trucks.
But the focus of this blog is content, so I want to talk about the linguistic chicanery Ram went through to try to ram (sorry) their product into meshing with King's speech. Here is the sampled part of the speech that was used by Ram:
In the context of the sermon, "to serve" clearly means to act as a servant, i.e. to put others ahead of oneself to love them and show them grace. That is the first way dictionary.com defines it; however, there are no less than 30 other definitions for the word. I guess King could have meant, "You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to put the shuttlecock in play," but that doesn't make much sense. He might have meant, "You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to wait tables," but that seems self-explanatory and not very relevant.
No, we know he meant be a servant, and we know Ram knew what he meant, because of shots like these from the ad:
Only by the flimsiest stretch can the company connect itself to service by implying that its trucks are an important part of the work servant-minded people do. What they gloss over is the fact that a truck cannot be a servant and cannot "serve". If I put up a fence, I don't thank my hammer for its service afterward. The company's true intention with the ad becomes clear when shots like these start to appear...
The graphic "Built to Serve" pops up right after that last shot of the soldier's homecoming. The circumstances of these acts of serving have nothing to do with Ram trucks. It's all just a big attempt to piggyback on the sacrifices of others.
The Bottom Line
Disingenuous content just doesn't work. Modern audiences won't tolerate it, and they shouldn't have to.
If Ram wanted to make a statement about how Ram helps communities, they should have shown clips of Ram employees performing acts of service. But the cynic in me thinks the company started with this idea of utilizing the King speech, because King made it on the same calendar date as the Super Bowl. And to even come up with that idea, they must have just been Googling the date to see if anything they could use happened in history, right? Maybe a few people know the exact date the "I Have A Dream" speech was made, but this particular sermon? No way.
So they started with a flawed premise that all types of "service" are the same, then compounded that error with the huge faux pas of hijacking historically significant content and twisting its meaning.
Maybe the biggest crime of all was the fact Ram had a classic ad campaign in the bag that would've fit like a glove on Super Bowl Sunday. Bringing this guy back would've brought the house down. "SUPER BOWL SUNDAY SUNDAY!"...