VOL. 113 | NO. 189 | Tuesday, October 5, 1999
Delivery companies banking on traditional ads
Tradition, trends battle on advertising front
The package courier DHL Worldwide Express is letting its U.S. truck fleet carry its advertising load.
The California-based company is foregoing traditional ads but hopes to catch customers' attention with a splashy redesign of signs on its entire 3,000-vehicle U.S. fleet.
The trucks will now each carry three destination names like Tokyo, London, India and Turkey in big letters, and the company name in less prominent type to highlight DHL's international delivery capability.
Meanwhile, its bigger rival Federal Express is taking a more traditional approach for its industry-leading domestic express shipment service, running a new round of humorous commercials aimed at businesses selling over the Internet.
DHL, based in Redwood City, Calif., barely registers with a tiny 2 percent share of the huge market for air express deliveries within the U.S.
But it accounts for 40 percent of the smaller international market, which counts air express shipments across national borders, according to figures from Air Cargo Management Group, a Seattle-based consulting firm.
Federal Express, which accounts for 46 percent of domestic air express shipments, is second at 20 percent of international deliveries, the consulting firm's figures show.
DHL is celebrating its 30th anniversary this week and has tried mass-market TV and print ads in the past with some success.
In the early 1990's, it ran commercials that showed its vans flying past the competition's airplanes. More recently, its ads depicted local couriers hired by DHL rivals dallying at the cafe while DHL employees were busy making deliveries.
But the rising cost and competitive clutter in traditional advertising combined with the need to reach a narrow audience of business executives responsible for shipping drove DHL toward a different marketing plan this year.
``We realized we were sitting on a tremendous ad medium with our fleet of vehicles,'' said David Fonkalsrud, a spokesman for DHL.
Each truck will carry three different destination names along with drawings associated with that locale - pyramids for Cairo, a windmill for Holland and the opera house arches for Sydney.
The DHL logo looks the same but will be slightly less prominent.
The new markings have been tested for a year in northern California, and should be on 75 percent of the fleet by the end of the year.
The redesign is expected to cost less than $1 million.
Clive Chajet, who heads his own marketing consultancy, said DHL has found ``a decent media for delivering messages'' by using its own trucks as ad vehicles.
``Traditional media is not the most cost-effective media'' for companies trying to get attention, he said.
Federal Express, the Memphis-based courier which overhauled its fleet earlier this decade, is introducing several new ads in its ``Be Absolutely Sure'' campaign that started last year.
That campaign included an ad that showed a rival courier sending the Stanley Cup hockey trophy to Bolivia and a bag of donkey feed to an arena where a hockey crowd was eager to celebrate.
The new ads, debuting on network TV this week, show three executives looking on in mock amazement as Web site designers ranging from computer geeks to a raging man who smashes the machines try to win their business.
``Whatever Web designer you choose,'' the ads say, ``use FedEx to ship your products.''
``Business people like the approach - they can identify with it,'' said Jim Lyski, vice president of U.S. marketing for Federal Express.
He declined to say how much it is spending on the ads, but said it will spend at least as much as last year.
The trade publication Advertising Age said Federal Express spent $125 million on ads last year.