When The Train Has Already Left The Station

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copyright 1993 olivier blanchard

Don't you wish you could turn back time every now and again? Take back that stupid comment you made during the last board meeting? Take back that promise you made that you knew you couldn't keep? Take advantage of an opportunity that should have been obvious when it first fell on your lap... but for whatever reason, wasn't all that obvious at the time?

I bet that right about now, FedEx does.

If you haven't heard of Mr. Jose Avila's little scrap with FedEx, here's the short version: Avila (a software developer) found himself having to move to Arizona before the lease on his apt. was up, forcing him to cover two rents. A little short on cash, he decided to make furniture out of FedEx boxes until he could buy some real furniture for his new place. The results were kind of funny, so he posted his creations on his website.

When FedEx found out about it (the next day), their legal department threatened to sue him if he didn't take down the site.

Whazawha? Hey, FedEx! What are you guys thinking? Wake up!

Didn't anyone there think that maybe this was kind of a cool idea? That maybe you could use it to promote your company in some way? That a younger generation of future FedEx users might be positively influenced by a concept like this? Didn't you think, for even a minute, that maybe you should put this guy in touch with your marketing team before throwing threats his way?

You could have turned this into so many opportunities, it boggles the mind.

The ad campaign, for starters:

Picture a shaky camera following Avila (or a FedEx-obsessed character loosely based on Avila) through little episodes of his daily life - At home, at the office, on a date... he incorporates and adapts FedEx packages and labels to every facet of his life. (His furniture is only the tip of the iceberg.)

Done right, it could have been a lot funnier than dancing chickens, talking monkeys or celebrities trying to be cool by driving FedEx trucks around the neighborhood, frankly.

You could have even taken it a step further and launched a contest to see what kind of stuff people could make out of FedEx packages: Cars, houses, boats, suits... whatever. The bolder, the better. It would have gotten people involved, it would have gotten them into FedEx locations to obtain materials... It would have increased points of contact and made your company seem more accessible (or at least easier or more fun to deal with). It would have added a whole new layer of brand ownership for them. This was an opportunity to get folks to actually make art out of your product. You could have helped them connect with your brand.

You could have used humor to explore some powerful themes... like rabid brand loyalty and service flexibility. (FedEx can help you in more ways than just sending packages.) You could have signed Avila on (like Subway did with Jarod) and either used him in your ads or paid him for the rights to his idea.

But instead, you threatened to sue him.



Ever heard of David & Goliath? Do you realize the role that underdogs play in the Western psyche? Do you have a concept of what makes people hate the "corporate mentality"? The little guy versus "The Man"? Keep that in mind when you consider how FedEx looks to the rest of us, going after a little guy like Avila for no good reason at all.

It's too late to turn this around now. That train has already left the station, but the story is still gaining momentum. Decades from now, it will probably still be making the rounds of business and marketing programs around the country: The great FedEx marketing blunder of 2005. (Hey! Catchy!)

I know, I know, hindsight's always 20/20... but this one really wouldn't have taken a genius. You don't sue people who bring good publicity to your brand with an original idea... at least not without talking to your marketing department first.

Lesson learned. (One can hope.)

Welcome aboard. Tickets please?

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9 Responses to “When The Train Has Already Left The Station”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Great rant. I agree totally! But FedEx has always been a butthead when it comes to customer service and everything else. Why would this be any different. What goes around comes around and this hit them hard!

  2. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Truly a great story, and it doesn't suprise me a bit about FedEx. They were unwilling to take action when I found out their driver was routinely delivering packages to my wife. FedEx has no class as a business

  3. Anonymous Anonymous 

    FedEx missed the boat, fer shure, but sounds like DHL caught it "down the line". They should definitely "Run with the Ball", now that they know what the World thinks of Avila. [what better way to come from behind and spike the "Top Gun"???]

  4. Anonymous Anonymous 

    I think that FedEx is very protective of their product. They just don't understand that this young man is living on his own and he can't afford the expensive furniture that's out there in the stores. I don't think that filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement is necessary.

  5. Anonymous Anonymous 

    I worked for FedEx for years. They run the place like a prison, and their first reaction to ANYTHING out of the ordinary is to get their armies of attorneys involved. Doesn't suprise me a bit.

  6. Anonymous Anonymous 

    FedEx when it absolutely has to get it there overnight, ought to have slept on this idea overnight instead of its knee jerk reaction to sue. Obviously a missed opportunity for a concept that could have become one of the most memorable ad campaigns.

  7. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Can a company sue its own legal department? You could get more in damages, too.

  8. Blogger Olivier Blanchard 

    That's kind of funny.

  9. Anonymous Anonymous 

    How about "SHIP WITH FED EX AND MAKE YOUR LIFE MORE COMFORTABLE" and have a picture of this guy with his furniture and great insight! If fed ex has a clue they will put him on the payroll.

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