As an advertiser, the worst possible thing that can happen is to be unnoticed. With yesterday’s immediate backlash, social media noise and today’s water-cooler conversations, there will be those that believe being unnoticed would have been much better for RAM Trucks than running the Martin Luther King Jr.’s Drum Major Instinct speech as the backdrop to their “Built to Serve” Super Bowl ad.
I don’t think there will be much argument that the overall idea of the commercial was solid. In fact, it might have been very powerful with no soundtrack at all. There is certainly some confusion being delivered by the licencors of the MLK Estate as to whether they were aware of the ad, its content and the rights to use the 50-year old speech. RAM is clear that they worked with the MLK people, every step of the way. Mercedes did the same a few years back.
And while today maybe be an unusually busy day for the RAM PR department, it makes me wonder if the Fiat-Chrysler executives that control the RAM brand are looking at the long game; recognizing that the conversation will melt into another topic about another brand or celebrity scandal while they reap considerable discussion about their trucks and what they should, or should not have done with their Super Bowl advertising.
There is no question that RAM sells loads of trucks, over 500,000 in the US last year, but they are ever in-pursuit of market leaders Chevy Silverado and the Ford’s F-Series. Trucks are a big deal in some parts of North America; like motherhood and apple-pie (mixed in with a few gun racks). And those that drive them, they often drive the brands their daddy’s did and sometimes their daddy’s before them. RAM’s job is to get people to switch their brand choice to them – period.
Was the “Built to Serve” ad market tested in advance? One would assume so for a brand as sophisticated as RAM. Did they expect the discussion about the ad and were they prepared for it? Or did they have no idea that their brand would be the topic of the day?
RAM’s mistake, if there is one, certainly is not the technical misrepresentations of VW in recent history. It’s one that might actually garner more discussion, at least in the short-term.
So will RAM view this as a PR disaster or is this a calculated risk to help catapult them into the forefront of discussion with the new 2019 trucks now available? It sure would be interesting to be in their offices today – however RAM got there (by mistake or on purpose), they now have my attention.