A number of ads run by NBC during Sunday night's Super Bowl coverage provoked condemnation on social media, as the network chose to promote a controversial religious group that's been denounced as a cult by former followers, and use a speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to sell cars in the kind of advertisement the civil rights leader had specifically criticized.
During one commercial break, an ad for the Church of Scientology played back-to-back with one for Raytheon, the maker of American missiles, military aircrafts, and drone technology that have led to countless civilian deaths.
Scientology and Raytheon back to back commercials in the Super Bowl. And somehow people are offended by players kneeling during the anthem.— Eugene O'Driscoll (@theresonly1geno) February 5, 2018
Scientology ad followed by a Raytheon ad is a nice encapsulation of contemporary America— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) February 5, 2018
The Church of Scientology has been denounced by former members who say they were physically and psychologically abused, separated from their families, and forced to perform arduous labor with little pay by the notoriously secretive group. The organization has promoted an anti-LGBT agenda, having supported California's anti-marriage equality initiative, Proposition 8, in 2008.
The ad played into the organization's secrecy, asking viewers if they were "curious" about its inner workings, before answering, "We thought so."
In addition to the Raytheon-Scientology commercial break, an ad for Fiat Chrysler's Dodge Ram truck was rebuked for using an excerpt of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Drum Major Instinct" speech, given exactly 50 years before the Super Bowl.
The company chose a part of the speech in which King discussed public service—leaving out the portion in which he condemned capitalism and materialism—specifically that which is pushed by corporations selling cars to Americans:
It is the drum major impulse and longing that runs the gamut of human life. And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in. Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car.
Public Citizen asked supporters to join in asking brands to end the misuse of black leaders' words and images.
Dodge’s exploitative Super Bowl ad took the substance of Dr. King’s speech – which warned against excessive materialism – and turned it inside out to advance its brand.— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) February 5, 2018
RT to tell @Dodge and all brands: don’t ever try to profit from social justice imagery and #BlackHistoryMonth https://t.co/GBJOI9d8Y9
On social media, tens of thousands shared a video showing the Dodge ad—paired with the words King actually said about such commercials.
OMG someone overlayed that ridiculous Dodge/MLK ad with what King actually said about capitalism and car commercials pic.twitter.com/9IB528mCyt— Astead (@AsteadWesley) February 5, 2018
King's daughter, Bernice King, clarified on Twitter that the family and its organization, the King Center, did not approve of the use of the speech for the ad; the King Estate, which licenses King's intellectual property, had given the ad agency behind the commercial permission to use the excerpt.
No.— Be A King (@BerniceKing) February 5, 2018