The other day, I noticed something unusual on the UPS blog
. Usually, its post get a handful of tweets or shares—maybe four or five per day. However, one blog post about a basketball game received 482 shares and 181 comments.
The sensation started a few weeks ago when UPS ran a TV advertisement concurrent with the NCAA basketball tournament that tried to connect a pass that won “the greatest game” to its theme of logistical excellence.
In the 1992 game, an underdog University of Kentucky (UK) team known as “The Unforgettables” had pulled ahead by one point in the closing seconds of overtime against Duke, the defending national champion.
With 2.1 seconds left, Duke player Grant Hill threw the ball nearly the length of the court to Christian Laettner, who turned and made the winning shot with no time remaining in the game.
“Everybody remembers the shot. But what about the pass? No pass, no shot,” the narrator says. “You need a special player to get the ball exactly where it needs to be, exactly when it needs to be there.”
An unexpected reaction
Kentucky fans exploded—the most heart-breaking loss in the history of their sports program was now played over and over again as an ad on behalf of a shipping company. To add insult to injury, UPS has major facilities in Kentucky.
A common tactic is for companies to address controversies and problems through their blog. In fact, it is a very important role for company blogs. In this case, UPS tried to soothe irate Kentucky fans by creating a post
by an actual Kentucky graduate that explained the thinking behind the ad:
“I know our new ads will anger some UK fans, but if you truly look at that game with an objective eye, it’s hard to think of a better example of what determined people working together toward a common goal can accomplish—and that’s what UPS is all about.
“No one should think that UPS has some kind of anti-UK bias. On the contrary, UPS loves Kentucky. We love it so much we established our primary air hub in the commonwealth, which has driven the creation of 33,000 jobs with $300 million in annual payroll.”
But the strategy backfired.
By creating this blog post, UPS just provided a forum for detractors and inflamed the angry fans who stormed the comment section with messages such as:
“Here’s an idea for your next UPS ad. How about you detail the ‘logistics’ of a major company receiving huge tax breaks from a state as an incentive to move there. Then you could show the ‘teamwork’ required to make an ad highlighting the most heartbreaking moment in that state’s sports history. Sounds like another winner.
“It’s bad you wrote this post trying to justify the ad, but to do so in such a condescending manner explaining to everyone how great the play was makes it even worse.”
Many Kentucky customers vowed to never use UPS again. Even a state senator weighed in, asking UPS to pull the ad.
It’s a tough situation. Before UPS created the commercial, it actually got the blessing of the university. And even as a die-hard college sports fan, I’m not sure I could have predicted a reaction like this when a company is touting your team as a participant in the greatest game ever.
An interesting case study. A celebration of a great sporting event, the NCAA basketball finals, has turned into a PR nightmare for UPS. What would you have done differently?
Mark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He blogs at grow, where a version of this article originally ran.