The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream was explicitly not for everyone to drive around in expensive, gas-guzzling trucks, which should go without saying but everyone understandably felt the need to clarify to Ram and its parent company Chrysler after they aired a Super Bowl LII ad selectively quoting one of the civil rights leader’s anti-capitalist speeches alongside footage of their vehicles. Yet perhaps Ram isn’t stupid or historically ignorant, but exactly as cynical as you might expect a massive corporation that manufactures mobile carbon dioxide emitters to be.
According to Bloomberg, social media metrics suggest that all the furor over Ram’s ad—which was somehow approved by the King estate, but prepared without the awareness of Dr. King’s daughter or the non-profit King Center—fueled millions of dollars in additional publicity:
But even the mostly negative commentary on Twitter generated more than $7 million in publicity, according to Eric Smallwood, of Apex Marketing, which measures the value of media placement and sponsorships. The ad quickly became one of the most-viewed videos on YouTube and featured prominently on television newscasts, generating an additional value already approaching $1 million, he said. NBC sold 30-second spots for more than $5 million.
“To think for a second that they didn’t know it was going to be controversial would be crazy,” University of Detroit marketing professor Michael Bernacchi told Bloomberg. “They didn’t just willy-nilly put this out there.”
Digital advertising and video metrics are notoriously bullshit, so it’s hard to quantify whether the MLK Jr. ad campaign worked if the intent was truly that cynical. But deliberately marketing off of outrage is something that’s become increasingly common in recent years, as the New Statesman noted in 2016, and probably something that’s gotten worse as social media companies have increasingly turned our brains into decomposing blocks of Swiss cheese.
It’s probably somewhat rarer for such a big company to use these tactics to push brand #awareness, and as our sister site Jezebel noted, this year’s ads were absolutely writhing with obviously manufactured faux-woke sentiment. So maybe, as is the thrust of a recent New York Times piece, Ram just misfired.
But hey, for the rest of the night and well into this week, everyone was and will be talking about Ram! Will that name stick in your head after the initial angry tweetstorms are over? Maybe. Is there a chance that the Ram logo will also stick in the heads of people who get angry about politically correct liberals and buy pickup trucks? Guessing probably! Is this a reminder that in an age of skyrocketing inequality, squabbling over brand identities on social media can provide the masses with the illusion of power? We’ll get back to you on that. Did I deliberately not embed the original version of Ram’s ad below? You betcha: