by John Borst, PP Rotary Club of Dryden, ON

‘Inspiration’, RAM trucks, Service, MLK, & Advertising: who could have guessed that those words in combination could be so toxic.

I live in an area of Canada, north of the State of Minnesota. It is an area the size of France with a population of less than 250,000, the majority of whom, very soon, will be Indigenous.

We drive pick-up trucks, RAMs, Fords, and Chevies. Men and women. We also join service clubs: Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis predominate. We raise hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and put it back into the community sponsoring youth, facilitating athletics, the arts, literacy and buying hospital equipment.

That is why when I read Vinay Menon’s COLUMN in today’s Toronto Star I shuttered in disgust. Menon wrote:

The online reaction to the King ad was so universally negative, the company tried to explain …..

In a statement, the company wrote: “It is 50 years to the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave such a tremendous speech about the value of service. Ram was honoured to have the privilege of working closely with the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. to celebrate those words during the largest TV viewing event annually. Their representatives were a very important part of the creative approval process every step of the way.”

That’s where the outrage mob should’ve slammed on the ABS brakes.

…..

This ad was not the crass commercialism its detractors imagine.

Instead, the spot was a lunge for inspiration, a quality that was mostly absent on Sunday night as companies unveiled Super Bowl ads ….. Dodge was trying to offer an uplifting message on the milestone anniversary date of a speech that would’ve otherwise come and gone without any mention on Sunday.

For that alone, the company deserves hosannas, not catcalls. ….. Sunday’s ad had nothing to do with exploitation by association. It was simply a call to action.

In this age, when cynicism is at peak levels and governments are abdicating the organizing principle of service, the ad was a reminder that anyone can make a difference. Critics say, “No way. This was about selling trucks. Period.”

But if that really was the secret plan, Dodge failed miserably, since it didn’t even include a single selling point in the ad. All things being equal, this could have been an ad for blackboards, axes, ultrasounds, helicopters or water.

In fact, one of the main reasons the King estate approved the creative via its official licensing company, Intellectual Properties Management (IPM), was the realization there was a “Ram Nation” of drivers with do-good impulses.

This reality does not perhaps dovetail with the sneering stereotype of pickup owners.

But commenting on the ad-hoc group, Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of IPM, noted: “We learned that as a volunteer group of Ram owners, they serve others through everything from natural disaster relief, to blood drives, to local community volunteer initiatives . . . We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”

I hope Fiat Chrysler, which owns the Ram line, doesn’t convene an emergency crisis management meeting this week, followed by a public apology and prompt yanking of the ad. That’s the usual trajectory. This time, I hope a company isn’t cowed by the outrage mob into disavowing a commercial that, on balance, should be seen for what it is: inspiring.

We need the words and ideas of Dr. King, now more than ever.

And if a truck ad moves even one person into turning his words and ideas into a blueprint for serving others, we should stand on the curb and cheer.

My  God, I thought “Be the Inspiration” is our 2018-2019 theme. We will have it plastered all over Rotary World. Benign, non-political? Not to this age, at least not when pick-up trucks, advertising, Martin Luther King and Football clash with the outraged crowd of the Internet.

I say, let us go out to our local RAM – Fiat Chrysler dealer as individual Rotarian’s and thank them for their support of service. They exemplified our motto “Service Above Self” and took it on the chin. Saying thanks is the least we can do.