Just in case you have ever wondered, United Parcel Service has 96,361 trucks. If you live in any of the 175 countries that UPS services, you’ve seen them: They’re big, they’re fast, and, of course, they’re brown. Relatively few brands enjoy the luck of its workaday equipment becoming a universally recognizable icon. So it’s no surprise, as this 1992 ad shows, that those big brown trucks have taken center stage in the company’s marketing.
Remember the slogan “What can brown do for you?” Ever notice those little die-cast UPS trucks in the toy store? (Amazon sells them for $11.90.) Even Nascar driver Dale Jarrett, following years of mock prodding, finally raced a big, brown delivery truck around Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Why, then, would UPS ditch that terrific truck in favor of … a millennial entrepreneur holding her foam robot? “This 1992 ad was appropriate for its time,” observed Brian Ceraolo, president of Peerless Media, which publishes Logistics Management magazine. “But advertising has changed a lot over 20 years.” For UPS, that change came in the form of an IPO and another thing called the Internet. Together, they completely changed the way this 107-year-old shipper does business—a change in plain view in these two very different magazine ads.
In 1992, UPS was already a mammoth private courier, but a courier was all it was. “In the older ad, the focus is on one thing: expedited shipping,” Ceraolo said. “The message is geared for a large-volume business, and they’re using their well-known trucks to do that.”
Then in 1999, UPS went public at $50 per share—the biggest IPO Wall Street had ever seen. Its corporate pockets suddenly bulging with $5.47 billion, the company went shopping, snapping up a slew of finance, brokerage and international trading firms. Eventually 40 companies melted into UPS, a consolidation that transformed the corporation from a package-delivery brand into a behemoth of logistics (a fancy term for moving both goods and information through a supply chain).
While all that was happening, the Internet was busy changing the business world. Suddenly, it was possible for twentysomething entrepreneurs to start businesses from their homes. These kids had the smarts; it was logistics help they needed. So in the course of just a few years, the trusty old package service with blue-chip clients was a full-services logistics broker making a pitch to post-adolescent CEOs.
“The 2014 ad shows that the target audience is different,” Ceraolo said. “UPS would not have targeted this sort of business in 1992. And it isn’t about packages anymore—it’s about technology.”
Out with the truck, in with the millennial.
Maybe painting hot-rod flames on the truck was a little hokey, but UPS was just riffing on a highly recognizable asset. In fact, the company did it so well that “you don’t even need the copy in this ad,” said Ceraolo, who pointed out that everyone already knew the UPS pledge: “Hey, we move things fast.”
1. Limor Fried, a 2003 grad of MIT and founder of hobby electronics component firm Adafruit, wouldn’t have been on UPS’ radar in the old days. Today, she typifies the new face of corporate America— and an opportunity customer for UPS.
2. Adabot, the blue robot puppet, stars in Circuit Playground, an online video series that teaches kids about electronics components. Looks like he gave the heave-ho to the old brown truck, too.
3. After eight years, UPS dumped “What can brown do for you?” in 2010. The new slogan: “We [heart] logistics.” Advertising director Betsy Wilson defined it as “choreograph[ing] a ballet of infinite complexity played across skies, oceans and borders.” Gee.