Dodge has triggered a wave of furious backlash over its Super Bowl ad that used a speech by civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr "to sell trucks". The minute-long ad that aired during Super Bowl LII on Sunday featured an audio clip of King's "Drum Major Instinct" sermon that focused on the idea of seeking "greatness" through service.

The audio clip was played over dramatic shots of people working in various service-oriented professions including fishermen, students, firemen, football players and soldiers.

"If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful," King's voice says. "But recognise that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness."

The ad then cuts to a Dodge Ram truck plowing through the mud and water. It ends with a still that reads: "Built to serve: Ram."

King's sermon was delivered 50 years ago to the day on 4 February, 1968, two months before he was assassinated.

Social media users, however, were not impressed with the ad that happens to come during Black History Month and immediately blasted the truck company for "exploiting" King's words and powerful message to a vehicle.

As Twitter erupted with criticism over the "crass" and "tone deaf" ad, the King Center and King's daughter, Bernice King, tweeted that they were not involved in approving the use of King's words for the Dodge commercial.

Intellectual Properties Management, the firm that manages King's intellectual property, told the Associated Press that it approved the ad because it embodied his philosophy.

The Drum Major Institute, a civil rights organisation named after King's speech, pointed out the irony of a section of the sermon that was left out from the ad.

"In this, one of the last sermons of his life, Dr King talked about both the virtues and the evils of the basic instinct all people possess to be 'drum majors,'" the Institute's co founder, William B Wachts told IBTimes UK in a statement. "In a twist of irony, one of the specific evils Dr King condemned was the exploitation of the drum major instinct by advertisers, particularly car advertisers."

"In this sermon, Dr King asked that he be remembered as one thing only, a 'drum major for justice.' As we observe the 50th anniversary of this sermon and his tragic death, let us all honour that wish by recommitting to once and for all realise upon his dream that all of our brothers and sisters have the opportunity to live in the beloved community he gave his life for."

Livid over the ad, Twitter users slammed Dodge for using King's speech about service to promote trucks.

"Don't use MLK to sell f**king trucks," someone tweeted. "That ad turned my stomach."

"Black people cant kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the super bowl. Unbelievable," Akilah Hughes wrote.

The Human Right Campaign's Charlotte Clymer added: "It's incredibly disgusting for Dodge to exploit Martin Luther King's words to sell Ram trucks. Tone deaf as hell."

Another person added: "That MLK excerpt comes from "The Drum Major Instinct" speech, part of which warns against the dangers of unwise consumerism, and ends with King imagining his own funeral. So yeah, that commercial is as crass and gross as you were thinking."

martin luther king jr
Black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King (1929 - 1968) addresses crowds during the March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC Central Press/Getty Images