'I have a dream' - Taobao uses Martin Luther King's likeness to promote sales

An advert featuring the deceased civil rights leader has been called "tasteless" by many on the internet

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 December, 2013, 8:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 4:14pm, one of China’s most popular websites for online shopping, has used the image of American Civil Rights Movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. in an advert that many have called "tasteless".

King’s likeness is featured in a marketing campaign for Taobao’s “12/12 Sale Day" which has appeared on various video streaming sites, including Youku, China’s version of Youtube.

The videos show King reciting his iconic “I have a dream” quote. A red “lai see” envelope, symbolizing wealth and monetary gifts, appears in King’s hand and sprouts into a giant money tree. Another envelope appears afterwards, showcasing the words: “Plant one red envelope, harvest even more red envelopes.”

The advert, possibly meant to juxtapose King’s “dream” with the dream of saving and spending lots of money on big Taobao sales, was first noticed and shared by Twitter user Jake Fromer, a former intern at The New York Times’ Beijing bureau.

The advert has since gone viral on Twitter and other websites frequented by expats living in China. Many bloggers have criticised it for its “distasteful” usage of King.

“Martin Luther King Jr. dreams of money,” one Twitter user wrote in response to Fromer’s original post. “Tasteless, Taobao. What the f*** is [Taobao head] Jack Ma thinking?”

"This is as if used the Dalai Lama to promote [American online shopping holiday] Cyber Monday," a Facebook user wrote. 

Others have blasted the advert for comparing King’s “I have a dream” speech, which originally referred to the civil rights leader’s desire to see a world free of racial discrimination, with a dream of money.

“[This] is superficial,” another Internet commentator wrote. “They don’t care about [Martin Luther King Jr.]… This marketing campaign…is stupid, greedy, and has nothing to do with the initial meaning of [King’s quote].”

Martin Luther King Jr. was an American humanitarian who became well known for advancing the country's Civil Rights Movement through nonviolent means. He was assassinated in 1968 and is regarded as one of the United States’ most famous African American leaders

Update: On Friday, the Alibabe Group, owners of Taobao, responded to the criticism by apologising and removing the advert.

"We deeply regret the cultural insensitivity and sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended," an Alibaba spokesperson told the Post. "We have taken swift action to remove this advertisement immediately from all websites."