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Martin Luther King, Jr. Footage Used to Hawk $175,000 Mercedes

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In postmortem, Fred Astaire endorsed Dirt Devil, Groucho Marx danced for a can of Pepsi and now, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. lends his face to Mercedes-Benz.

Paul Farhi at the Washington Post reported on the latest ad for the new Mercedes SLS AMG coupe. In it, the vehicle's gull-wing doors are matched by historical figures of note raising their arms in a show of victory. Among the names are Muhammad Ali, Leonard Bernstein, Kristi Yamaguchi, as well as NASA engineers watching the moon landing and Germans celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall. And also representing the coupe's sleek design and Teutonic dependability is footage of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

The Washington, DC, speech has been included in a number of ads, such as Chevrolet's 2006 "Our Country" spot and France's Alcatel Americas, and his image was used in a notable spot in Apple's "Think Different" campaign. Clayborne Carson, director of the King Research and Education Institute at Stanford University and the editor of King's papers, voiced his disappointment about the trend with Farhi.

"I wish that whenever King is used in an ad the purpose is to draw attention to King and his legacy and not simply as a way to attract attention to the advertiser." He added, "The message should be, 'We're honoring King,' instead of, 'You should buy a Mercedes.' "

And unless some rare letters are unearthed, those two phrases will always be mutually exclusive.

POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.