Fiat Chrysler Faces Sales Backlash for Martin Luther King Jr. Ad

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For some inexplicable reason, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Inc.’s (NYSE: FCAU) Dodge division decided to sell its Ram pickup by using a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The speech that the Fiat Chrysler ad featured was given 50 years ago.

The car company has to brace itself for a sharp drop in sales of the vehicle, which had just been redesigned.

The manufacturer described the ad in a note to the media:

The heart of the 60-second spot is a speech that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered exactly 50 years ago today, February 4, 1968, that illustrates this value perfectly. The Ram Truck brand believes in Dr. King’s notion that “everybody can be great because everybody can serve,” and Ram owners demonstrate this commitment every day in lending helping hands to their families, friends and communities. The spot is comprised of 26 powerful images of those serving others, with Dr. King’s commanding voice calling for all of us to serve.

The nearly universal reaction was that FCA tried to use Dr. King as the equivalent of a car salesman.

FCA’s Ram sales have started the year in trouble. In January, the Ram brand sold 29,358, down 13.1% from the same month last year. It is already in third place among full-sized pickup sales in the United States. The industry leader, the Ford F-150, sold 58,937 units, up 1.6% from January of last year

Surging sales of the number two pickup based on sales, the Chevy Silverado, were up 14.5% in January to 40,716.

Ram has introduced a major redesign of all the pickups in the brand. It is counting on this redesign to close in on Chevy’s Silverado for the number two spot in U.S. full-sized pickup sales. The shameful use of the Dr. King speech in a Super Bowl ad will set that plan back, perhaps for a very long time.