About twelve and a half years ago, my very first marketing blog post was about a terrible lost opportunity – one that I now believe is the greatest sin of marketing ever committed.
We’re talking crime of the century level here.
Here is what I wrote, all those years ago, and I feel just as passionately about it today:
How many times in a given week do you see one of the famous brown UPS trucks? Plenty, I’d imagine. But now, ask yourself this: When you see the phrase “Worldwide Services” attached to that logo, what does that mean to you? How non-specific can a company be?
Yes, I know that UPS wants to be seen as more than a package delivery company. They provide other “services.” But then, plastered on the side of all of those thousands of trucks, passing millions of regular people each day, is this additional mind-numbing phrase: “Synchronizing the world of commerce”
OK, I’m sufficiently immersed in the business world, and have learned enough about the UPS strategy to know that a key growth area of their business is providing a growing number of services to the entire supply chain. But shouldn’t that rather esoteric phraseology be saved for business publications and direct marketing pieces to Chief Operating Officers, instead of wasting all that moving billboard space flashing less-than-meaningful phrases to 99.5% of those who see them?
For the average person, this branding is distant and meaningless. If I see just two of these trucks per weekday, that’s over 500 lost opportunities to speak a meaningful and memorable message to me per year.
When I ask people during my presentations if they can tell me what is written on the side of UPS trucks, no-one ever can. That is branding malpractice.
It is almost impossible to imagine how many eyeball-impressions have been wasted in the past twelve years through phrases that mean nothing to most of the humans on the planet.
Here’s my take today:
Can you think of any more criminal loss of branding opportunity that this one? If so, I’d love to hear your take in the comments.
A clear, memorable, human-ready message should be at the center of EVERY company’s branding and marketing. That’s why I do clarity consulting. We turn opportunity lost into opportunity gained, using words that work.
“We turned to Steve Woodruff to help us shape our differentiating message. His clarity principles are indispensable for honing your focus, increasing sales, and generating targeted referrals.” – Christy Soukhamneut, SVP, National Sales Performance, Certainty Home Loans
So true, Steve. Some people will argue, “But UPS is successful anyway. What do you say to that?” My response is they’d be even more successful if they got clear in their messaging.
Why not, “Disruptive partners in aligning synergistic optimization and globalization of sustainable logistical processes.”
I like it. Vivid. Concise. Memorable.
And, it’s not just the trucks. Their advertising themes/taglines over the years have been real clunkers. What can Brown do for you? (clunk) We love logistics! (clunk) United Problem Solvers (clunk). None of these are effectively planting a human-ready message into the minds/hearts of the audience.
I’ll push back a little, though I do agree with your point. Worldwide Services in the shipping and logistics business means “Yes. We can deliver it there, too.” So for someone knowing what they’re looking for, that phrase is important and impactful. You have to remember (and I may be off on timing) that when UPS started using that, they didn’t have FedEx as competitors. The USPS didn’t (or didn’t easily) deliver worldwide. While the phrase may be out-dated by today’s competitive standards, and needs a clarity revision, too, it’s not the crime of the century. 😉
Here’s what really grinds my socks – both of the phrases they currently use are technically accurate, but mis-aimed and ineffective. They don’t convey a clear, understandable concept. They create no tangible word picture. They leave no positive impression. Even if UPS has succeeded despite itself – why would anyone leave that amount of impression-making-opportunity on the table (or asphalt) when a better tagline can be employed??
Wow … you know, Steve, until this post, I had no idea there was even anything written on the side of their trucks. For such a huge company, their branding (besides the brown trucks you see everywhere) is not very good!