Of all the reactions to the super bowl ads, the most interesting to me by far was the backlash to the Martin Luther King Jr Ram spot.

Putting my cards on the table: the backlash delighted me.

Brands do this kind of nonsense all the time, using altruism as window dressing for their wares. What’s curious to me is why audiences haven’t objected to all the other equally ham-fisted attempts at this same ploy as much as they did this one.

It’s certainly partly because of the particular heightened racial complexity of this moment in the NFL, so the audience’s dissonance detectors may well be more sensitive right now.

But I think it’s more than that. The more we advertisers use tired tools, the wiser the audience gets to them. Today’s audience is so much better at detecting disingenuousness than the audience of even a couple years ago. And man was this ad disingenuous.

brands do this kind of nonsense

The saddest part is that it would have taken two very minor changes to turn this ad from disingenuous to sincere.

First: lose the giant Ram grill beauty shot that mars the sentiment before the spot even gets going. That clichéd truck fording mud porn comes as such a damn disappointment in the middle of an historic sermon like this. You can feel the collective groan. If you want to make this kind of advertising work, your branding has to take a distant back seat to the message. Save it to the very end. Anything else is a huge fail.

Second: imagine Ram had ended the spot with a simple line like, “To further Dr. King’s legacy, Ram is donating 100 trucks this year to service organizations doing important work.”

There. Now Ram means it. Spot fixed.