Solving Problems or Making Opportunities? (Thoughts on the New UPS Ad Campaign)

Almost five years ago, UPS introduced the general public to logistics when it launched its “We [Heart] Logistics” ad campaign, which helped raise public awareness about the logistics industry — and helped my family and friends better understand what I do for a living.

This past Sunday, UPS launched a new ad campaign with the slogan “United Problem Solvers,” which according to the press release, “communicates the company’s unique capabilities to solve problems for all customers, ranging from small businesses to the largest global enterprises.”

UPS wants people and businesses to think differently about the company and what it can offer, beyond “just thinking of our capabilities of making shipments from point A to point B,” said Maureen Healy, vice president of customer communications. It’s a goal shared by most third-party logistics providers (3PLs): getting customers to think of them from a broader, more strategic perspective.

But it’s an ongoing challenge, as this comment by Alda Abbracciamento, worldwide managing director at advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, who worked with UPS on the campaign, underscores:

“It’s very hard to break through to have people think differently about UPS, because they think they know what they need to know about UPS. While very well-known, we’ve got to provide additional meaning to that.”

I would argue that the challenge starts internally: getting a 3PL and its employees to think differently about their business, a challenge I wrote about last March in 3PLs, What Business Are You In?

What I like most about this new UPS ad campaign is that the company took a step back and asked itself that very question — What business are we in? — and came up with several new answers, which it communicates in this video:

  • We’re in the “Pushing what’s possible” business
  • We’re in the “How do we get this startup off the ground?” business
  • We’re in the “Taking your business global” business
  • We’re in the problem-solving business

When you ask the “What business are we in?” question and think it through, you’ll likely find new answers, which open doors to new opportunities and value propositions. As I wrote last March:

Yes, 3PLs provide customers with “multiple logistics services” like transportation management and warehousing, but they are also in the business of providing (among other things)…

Software applications, trading partner connectivity, and data quality management services that provide customers with timely, accurate, and complete visibility to supply chain events, information, and intelligence.

Thought leadership and advice — “Tell me something I don’t already know” — so that customers can make smarter and faster decisions about their supply chain networks, strategy, and practices.

Risk management capabilities to help customers minimize or eliminate supply chain risks, and more importantly, to help them recover from supply chain disruptions faster and with less impact.

And when it comes to shippers, they have to stop putting 3PLs in a box. In the past, you had a box for freight forwarder, a box for broker, a box for warehouse operator, and so on. Over the years, service providers have busted out of those boxes — via mergers and acquisitions, new business models, and new product development — to pursue new growth opportunities, and to provide manufacturers and retailers with more complete, “end-to-end” supply chain solutions. So, put aside your existing biases and assumptions, stop putting 3PLs in a box, and focus on the question that matters the most when defining your supply chain strategies and initiatives: What are our desired outcomes?

I do have a problem (pun intended) with the new ad campaign: it suggests that problem solving is the sole focus of supply chain and logistics. It echoes the perception that supply chain and logistics is just about cost reduction and management. But we all know that supply chain and logistics is also about opportunity making, and about driving top-line growth, capturing market share, and improving customer satisfaction. UPS even says so at the end of the video — “[We’re] ready to help you solve problems while they’re still called opportunities.”

I hope UPS promotes the opportunities part of the message too, and I have just the song for them to consider: Opportunities by the Pet Shop Boys, and my favorite lyrics from the song:

Oh, there’s a lot of opportunities
if you know when to take them
You know there’s a lot of opportunities
if there aren’t, you can make them
(Make or break them)

So, go ahead UPS and other 3PLs, solve problems, but make opportunities too.