Cross-Media Case Study: Big Brown Goes Back to Basics

An old tool stars in UPS' new media campaign

The old-fashioned whiteboard, a staple in conference rooms across the world, is at the center of a new UPS campaign. The "What Can Brown Do for You?" tagline, first used in 2002, hasn't been erased, by the way. Rather, the new effort aims to update that concept by detailing UPS's products and services.

It's a daunting task, given that UPS isn't merely a package delivery company but a provider of global supply chain management, technology and financial services. "What UPS was looking for was to be able to tell their stories in simple, non-intimidating ways that made sense and revealed this little 'Aha!' " says Andy Azula, creative director at UPS' ad agency, Richmond, Va.-based The Martin Agency.

Ultimately, The Martin Agency came up with the idea of having a guy illustrating UPS' products and services via simple whiteboard presentations. That guy, now known as "the Whiteboard guy," thanks to a slate of recent TV ads, happens to be Azula. "I never intended to put myself in the commercials," Azula stresses with a laugh. Turns out Errol Morris, who directed the commercials for Moxie Pictures, insisted on casting Azula after seeing nearly 1,000 actors, none of whom were as appealing to focus-group attendees as the creative director himself.

Incidentally, the music that accompanies the TV commercials is a track called "Such Great Heights" by a band called The Postal Service. No kidding.

In addition to TV commercials, the campaign includes radio spots, online banner ads, search, print, outdoor, and direct mail. All of these elements drive traffic to, the microsite that is at the heart of the effort. Each component of the site offers an invitation to a conversation, says Susan Fletcher, UPS' director of international and online communications. "The Whiteboard site is that conversation," she adds.

Visitors to the site encounter who else but the Whiteboard guy upon arrival, and he invites users to select one of five areas - for example, international shipping - that they would like to know more about. The Whiteboard guy then walks them through a simplified explanation of the process.

The site also features a unique viral component through which users can instruct the Whiteboard guy to write a customized whiteboard message (no cursing allowed) that can be e-mailed to a friend.

Animated 3-D Web demonstrations explain the ins and outs of particular UPS services. Case in point: "Quantum Leap" shows how a skateboard company can use UPS' Quantum Leap online technology to monitor its entire supply chain. Other case studies document such matters as how businesses have integrated UPS functionality into their Web sites.

"It's deeper than we've done before. It's not just an online destination for the advertising," Fletcher says. "It was built to be engaging and try and encourage people to explore a little more about we can offer." Atlanta's IQ Interactive constructed the site.

A Natural Choice

Given that UPS has a fairly complex business to explain, the site had to be the centerpiece of the Whiteboard campaign, said IQ Interactive's CEO Tony Quin. "They've got a lot of different products, and it takes a while to explain them, and you can't really do that in a 30-second television commercial or a print ad. You need more time with people," Quin maintains. Then he adds, "ups has really bought into the idea - which we think is the future of marketing, period - that the Web can provide the most compelling and comprehensive presentation of a value proposition, more so than any other medium. Therefore, it makes sense to drive to the Web."

UPS doubled its spending on online advertising for this new campaign, investing in not only the site but in a day-long Yahoo home-page takeover and dynamic, rollover banner ads placed across a broad range of online business media. "It is a cost-effective, highly engaging, interactive and measurable channel," Fletcher says of the Web "With the great penetration of broadband, especially with the business audience, which is our primary target audience, it is a natural choice."

Two key elements of the Whiteboard campaign - the TV spots and the video for the Web site - were shot simultaneously, giving the campaign's TV and online elements a consistency in look and feel. "It was a first for us to actually have the online components being built simultaneously as the campaign was developing, and it made for a much more integrated experience from a creative perspective," Fletcher says.

As for results, Fletcher reports that the Whiteboard site, which went up last January, received more traffic in its first month of existence than UPS' last microsite did in six months. When the Whiteboard site went live in January, the online banner ads hadn't been posted yet, so the first week of traffic was driven mainly by the TV commercials, and they were quite effective. "We could see spikes [in traffic to the site] after the TV spots aired. That was quite interesting for us to see that people were actually watching the TV spots, then going to their computers and going online," Fletcher remarks.

Users are spending an average of four minutes perusing the site, which will remain live at least through the end of the year, and the viral component is popular, according to Fletcher.

A Star Is Born?

The viral component also gets kudos from Barry Parr, a media analyst for JupiterResearch who worked in marketing at DHL. "That was a pretty clever execution of a very simple idea, and I think it's one that might get some traction on the Web. It was fun," Parr says, of the animated Web shows on the site. "I think people will get some use out of that and do some clever things with it."

"UPS has a pretty interesting story to tell, and I think for people who don't spend a lot of time thinking about shipping - nor should they - it's easy to forget that in fact there is this whole story having to do with things like logistics," he adds.

But Parr isn't convinced that UPS needed to showcase its TV commercials on the site. "These ads are very flat, very matter of fact, and very prosaic. They're not clever. They're not punchy. They're not artistically inspired. So I'm less convinced that people are necessarily going to watch the ads online or take a message away from them, and I think that's where the campaign falls flat."

Azula's fans might take exception with Parr's characterization of the commercials. He can't go anywhere without being recognized these days. During a meeting not long ago at UPS in Atlanta, employees sought his autograph, and Azula found himself the center of attention at the airport recently.

"All of a sudden I hear, 'Hey, there's the Whiteboard guy!' And I see people pointing at me and drawing things in the air," Azula shares with a laugh. "When I agreed [to appear in the ads], it was more in the interest of the campaign, and now what I am realizing is, 'Oh, right, I forgot about this part.' It's a different experience."

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