This UPS Ad Bugs Me


There is a TV ad that runs very often on Fox News, CNN, et. al. for UPS.

This ad tries to make the argument that UPS can be a competitive advantage. They compare two companies:

“You have overseas suppliers, they have overseas suppliers. You have low-cost manufacturing, they have low-cost manufacturing…. you have an ad agency, they have an ad agency….”

I think the point they are making is that you need more than flashy ads, you need an effective supply chain. That's a valid message, I can't take issue with that.

What bugs me is the casual use of the phrases “overseas suppliers” and “low-cost.” The impression I get is that “low-cost” also equals “overseas.” Overseas suppliers, overseas manufacturing…. low cost. That really seems to get drummed into your head. And that's what bugs me.

Running overseas to chase low labor costs is NOT the only way to have low costs (see KBS Wire, who is able to use lean to be cheap enough to beat Chinese competitors). Running overseas is particularly NOT the way to have an effective or fast supply chain (see Toyota or Dell, who are able to be fast and responsive here in the U.S).

What if the ad said “You have local fast-response suppliers, they have local fast-response suppliers. You have lean domestic factories, they have lean domestic factories.”???

What can “Brown” for lean? I don't blame UPS for associating “overseas” with “low cost”, they are just echoing the mood and trends of the business community that they serve. I wouldn't expect them to be lean zealots. Still, I can wish it was different.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I hear you, but isn’t their business, in many cases, another “just-in-case” inventory to protect those who need protection from their own lack of lean. Their major customers are companies that need help moving things quickly from one part of the world to another because they haven’t considered alternatives and they don’t see the WASTE written on each Brown package.

  2. I’m not aruging the points being made here, but to UPS’s credit, they do supply some competitive advantage. Whether shipping or receiving over boarders, UPS cuts out the waste. They have installed processes to handle customs and paperwork that can consume a company’s resources on non-value added work. You might not like the add, but the service itself eliminates waste for companies.

  3. I agree that the commercials are disturbing. Similar is the “Barry” ad from FedEx that shows 2 guys in a conference room. The boss is asking questions on improving the company to an almost empty table. I think the idea is that the company has cut every other cost (mainly labor), and using FedEx is the last key to cost cutting.

    To me, the message more clearly states, “We have laid off many people, and some of them may be needed to actually improve the company.” The commercial does reflect the current mindset of cutting all expenses in the name of short term profits, rather than build a truly great company.


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