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Monday Morning Quarterbacking

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Yesterday was the 52nd Annual Super Bowl. (As New Englanders, the Bs are still reeling a little over the Pats' defeat, of course. But, as Scarlett O'Hara might say, "Tomorrow is another year.") 

Happily, the day marked a couple of less ... shall we say, distressing ... events too.

First of all, Super Bowl LII coincided with Puppy Bowl XIV. While "the GOAT," Tom Brady, may not have brought home another Vince Lombardi trophy for his fans here in Massachusetts, the Puppy Bowl, as usual, helped find homes for dozens of dogs. Besides the fact that the Puppy Bowl is far more cute and cuddly (and arguably more entertaining) than its NFL counterpart, the show does enormous good each year. It achieves a 100% adoption rate for the canine athletes who actually compete on Animal Planet's popular show. And, shelters across these United States report that on Super Bowl Sunday, their phones start — and keep — ringing, 

So, for its wide-reaching effectiveness, the Bs are big fans of the Puppy Bowl. (Just ask Blossom, Zydeco or Princess Grossman.)

Less effective, alas, were some of the much anticipated sponsor ads that played during the Patriots vs. Eagles game on NBC. At close to $5 million a spot (and with 100 million viewers), the Super Bowl is the championship day in television advertising as well as football. But, this year there weren't a lot of winners.

The biggest trend seemed to be co-opting social causes to sell things. Not the safest strategy — tricky at its best, PR suicide at its worst. The most egregious offender was Ram Trucks, which used a speech of the late Martin Luther King Jr. as its voiceover. Lest we condemn them prematurely, there was actually a connection. MLK's message was the value of service and Ram Trucks are, as they told us at the end of the spot, "built to serve."

But, oy vey, was the rest of the concept tone deaf.

And, given that this was 2018's Super Bowl, viewers did what they do best: went online to vent immediately. And we do mean immediately. Within moments, Twitter was abuzz with the kind of criticism that companies pay millions of dollars to avoid:

"Not sure MLK's dream was to buy a Dodge Ram."

"Cue Dodge apology to Super Bowl ad in ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ..."

"MLK did not die to be featured in a truck commercial."

And. the most informed tweet:

"OMG someone overlayed that ridiculous Dodge/MLK ad with what King said about capitalism and car commercials."

A quick visit to Google, and we found the rest of King's speech:

"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. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you're just buying that stuff. … I got to drive this car because it's something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor's car. … I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I'm going to continue to say it to America."

Not exactly a glowing tribute to advertisers or the advertising industry.

Fast forward fifty years and there's one final issue that someone at Dodge (or Dodge's agency) should have thought about.

The Super Bowl is the ultimate event in a sport that has attracted media and public (and government) attention as a controversial symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement. Misusing the words of a civil rights leader was not a smart strategy. And the irony was not missed by viewers. As someone tweeted:

"Black people can't kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the super bowl. Unbelievable."

We agree.


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