What Can Brown Do? They Dumb It Down For Us


The UPS Whiteboard. What Can Brown Do For You?

These “whiteboard” ads with the guy with the long hair (Mark Fields would be proud!) drawing out logistics concepts on a whiteboard are pretty ubiquitous, especially during news shows and sporting events (the types of programming advertisers use to target executives).

Are the whiteboard ads meant to be friendly and not intimidating or do they have to dumb it down for the finance-driven executives?

Like the ad for China shipping, the man says:

“All right, China shipping… so you need to bring your product from China to the U.S. and you like the reliability of those big brown trucks. Problem is… truck don't float.”

Really? Can't build a bride to Hawaii like they wanted to on Gilligan's Island? I don't think the UPS ads are going for humor… so do they really need to explain it on this level?

“But what if, that big brown truck were a big brown plane?…. Now it will get here in a hurry, early in the morning if you want.”

I'm not expecting detailed analysis and discussion of supply chain logistics tradeoffs in a 30-second ad, but isn't this ad an indication of the bias towards “it's natural to build stuff in China, but how do you get it here?”

Great post over at Evolving Excellence on that topic, why is it inevitable (at least to Wall Street) that all manufacturers must go to China? Of course UPS makes a lot of money in the process, but does YOUR company?

I know Toyota still imports product to the U.S., but wouldn't it be great if some cash-rich lean proponent could run similar whiteboard ads explaining why lean and being close to your customer can sometimes beat just rushing to China?

I'm still looking for a way to give away that MP3 player pre-loaded with all of the LeanBlog Podcasts. If you can write a creative Lean “Whiteboard” script, send it to me or post it in the comments.

This UPS ad bugged me too. Same reasons.

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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. Sometimes the higher I go to explain things to management I do have to dumb it down. The white-board approach does appear to be very effective.

    I would love to see either a labor group or local government piggy back some adds in the same style to pitch local manufacturing.

  2. Someone should take Jim Womack’s e-letter from 01/10/2003 – “Move Your Operations to China? Do some lean math first” and do a rebuttal commercial.


    Hire John Madden to do one of his (in)famous teleprompter sketches. I can see it now: “and then all this inventory goes here, but there’s a snowstorm and it closes the airport in Denver – how ’bout that John Elway, guy. He was a pretty good baseball player, too, and they play pretty good ball in China, too. Anyway, your products are stuck way over here in China ’cause of the snow back here – they sure do get a lot of snow up there in Green Bay – meanwhile all these workers – hey, did you know there’s somethin’ like a billion people in China, and they’re just making more and more of your stuff, ’cause that’s what they get paid to do, that’s their job, kinda like it was Brett Favre’s job to keep the offense going in all that snow up there at Lambeau Field, and then BOOM, there goes all your profits”.

    It’d make for one heck of a spaghetti diagram!

  3. UPS and several of the other transshipping companies love when a manufacturer moves their cost from the COGs line to the Overhead portion of the P&L. Pointing to the change in COGs is easy, maybe someone should get out a whiteboard and help the executive with the total cost of delivering to customers.

    It definitely wouldn’t always work in favor of Brown.

  4. On the other hand TNT is adopting a different strategy:

    1) Quit from the logistic / “managing inventory” business

    2) Focus on delivery

    In fact they sold TNT Logistics; they are expanding their mail operation business and through acquisition increasing local delivery presence in countries such as India.

    Obviously they deployed few more airplanes, but their focus is on local delivery network.

    My view is that TNT is currently the best delivery partner for Lean Enterprises.


  5. Tip: Focus on your own businesses instead of blogging and commenting on UPS's marketing. Or was it a slow day at Walmart's IT department?


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