Why FedEx Chose Orange Bowl Over Super Bowl

While FedEx is sitting out the Super Bowl again this year, it’s going heavy on sponsorship of such events as yesterday’s Orange Bowl, a college football game held at the Land Shark Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Steve Pacheco, advertising and marketing communications director at the nation’s top shipping company, said such sports sponsorships over the years (FedEx is a 20-year sponsor of the Orange Bowl) have resulted in “significant dividends” for the brand. In an interview with Brandweek before the game, Pacheco spoke about the new ads that aired last night—all of which carry the tagline, “We understand,” and show what happens when consumers choose to ship (or not to ship) with FedEx. Pacheco also discussed FedEx’s advertising and marketing plans this year, and whether its Super Bowl absence is hurting the brand. The New York office of BBDO, which has held the FedEx account for as long as the company has been advertising in the Orange Bowl, created the spots; they can be viewed here. Excerpts from the conversation with Pacheco are below.

Brandweek: FedEx broke a series of spots with the tagline, “We understand,” during the Orange Bowl last night. What’s the goal behind this campaign?
Steve Pacheco:
Part of our goal is to leverage the investment we’ve made in the Orange Bowl and the Bowl Championship Series by powering that up with some new creative in the New Year. It’s important that we have some fresh work ready at what is a huge event in our media year. We expect a lot of viewers tonight in what is shaping up to be a big game.

BW: Why the whole focus on “trust” and “reliability?” Do you think that message is still as relevant now that the economy is bouncing back?
When people talk about FedEx, trust and reliability will always come up. With the “We understand” tagline [in all of our new spots], we’re reinforcing the fact that we know how tough the past year’s been for decision makers, we know they will be very focused on growing and successfully running their businesses and we want to give them all the opportunities they need to make that happen.

I think the message of trust is always going to be relevant because very few brands that can play that up and we’ve earned the right to be able to talk about it. It has to come from a stance of empathy, which is what the “We understand” platform allows us to do. We understand you need trust from your shipping company and we’re here to deliver that.

BW: FedEx is sitting out the Super Bowl again this year. Was that a tough decision to make? Did not advertising in the Super Bowl last year significantly hurt the brand?
It was the right decision at the time. Like everyone else, we had a very tough year last year in light of the events in the economy [and its impact on] our business. Specifically, we made the decision to stay out of the game for the first time in 12 years. That was due to cost constraints, obviously. So, I don’t regret the decision.

This year, we’re out for a little bit of a different reason. There is a new [way of thinking] in America and beyond where folks are sort of reexamining events. It’s been called the “reset economy” to some degree, and so, we’re giving every marketing investment greater scrutiny than before. In this case, we want to leverage the FedEx Orange Bowl investment in a more powerful and impactful way, [to the point where] we’ll be well served not to have advertised in the Super Bowl, and to have our own Super Bowl with the FedEx Orange Bowl.

BW: How has advertising in the Orange Bowl for the last 20 years benefited the FedEx brand?
It’s cemented our relationship with a lot of powerful decision makers, and college football fans are also very fervent and loyal to their team. [The sport] has become a great media backdrop for a lot of different brands. 

But it’s not just the Bowl Championship Series. We’re also sponsors of the NFL, the NBA, the PGA Tour with the FedExCup, and we’re very involved in Nascar, not to the extent of official sponsor, but we participate in a lot of different sports. We think sports programming  [provides a great platform for advertising.] People want to watch major sports events in real life and real time, and as our advertising and marketing efforts unfold, our investments in sports have paid some significant dividends over the years.

BW: How successful has FedEx’s approach been in the past?
If you poll anyone in business today, trust, dependability and reliability are always going to be in the top one, two and three boxes when people think about FedEx. I think our ad messaging has been remarkably consistent when we focus on those areas and how important they are to customers’ needs. Not only do we offer customers time and speed of delivery, but all of that is backed with trust, reliability and dependability, which the FedEx brand is known for. It makes for a pretty simple message set up and that’s not getting any less relevant as times have gotten tougher.

BW: Are you seeing an uptick in shipping activity?
FedEx is a great barometer for business conditions overall—we always have been. We can see when people are shipping, when they’re constraining, and when they’re investing—or not.

Toward the end of the calendar year 2009, we had the world’s busiest day. The amount of volume that went through our system exceeded our projections. We were expecting somewhere between 12-13 million packages, and we shipped over 14 million. That’s unheard of. I see that as a very positive sign.

BW: What’s your advertising strategy for FedEx this year?
You’ll see part of it with this campaign. The key word is integration. Obviously, all of the ad messaging we’re doing is going to be completely integrated. Each of these five, 30-second TV commercials ends with a call to action. [For instance], we understand you want to grow your business internationally. And, whereas we used to have just FedEx.com, now we’re driving people to a vanity URL: FedEx.com/we understand.

We’re driving traffic from traditional broadcast to the Web where consumers can interact with our Web site and learn about FedEx and our services at their own pace. On that site, we’ve got lots of information for folks seeking value options, like FedEx Ground, and the more opportunities we have to impart that information to consumers, we’ll all be better served.

We’re [also] migrating some of our media choices to be more reflective of how people are consuming media. Lunchtime is the new prime time for business people. The thing is, people are eating lunch at their desk more. That’s a fact. Call it economical, call it budget stretching, whatever it is, they are eating lunch at their desks more, where they have access to broadband Internet right there at the work place. That is another opportunity for us to make an impact and serve up some important information to them.