Who gave the OK to use MLK’s voice in Super Bowl ad?

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Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington in 1968. Washington Post photo by Matthew Lewis.

Amid the swift social media furor sparked by a pickup truck ad that used the voice of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and its CEO, Rev. Bernice King, said in a social media message that neither the center nor King personally were the governing authorities who could have licensed the use.

Ram Trucks did indeed have permission to use the audio, though.

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Intellectual Properties Management is the licenser of the King estate. Dexter Scott King is the organization’s CEO and CFO and, as of 2011, Bernice King is the secretary, according to documents on file with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Prior to that year, Dexter King also was listed as secretary, documents show.

In a statement pinned to the Ram Trucks Twitter page, managing director Eric D. Tidwell explained how Ram Trucks obtained the legal OK to use the late King’s voice:

“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.”

RELATED: All the new updates at Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park

Author and commentator Eric Schiffer, CEO of ReputationManagementConsultants.com, thinks the buzz surrounding the ad ultimately will benefit the automaker.

“Dodge’s Ram ad with its beautiful, positive message on Super Bowl Sunday aired when America is need of coming together,” he said. “Dodge’s values aligns with MLK’s message and it didn’t bother MLK’s rights holders who approved the license. The controversy will be a net benefit to the Ram truck’s brand because of the extra attention, especially when the underlying message is an elegantly positive and soulful one.”

But the commercial hasn’t won lots of acclaim on social media. Quite the opposite:

The deal itself is coming in for criticism:

 


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