The ubiquity of DHL's delivery trucks played an important role during its recent relaunch
Manhattan's streets have for decades been defined by a blur of yellow, as the city's iconic taxicabs careen through the traffic.
But for a few months now, there's been an even more noticeable yellow presence in the shape of DHL's numerous canary-colored trucks, which have managed to gain almost a visual ubiquity since their recent arrival, the result of about a year spent integrating DHL's services with those of its acquisition, Airborne Express.
The upstart parcel-delivery company has made a highly aggressive push in a city that for so long was dominated by the duopoly of UPS and FedEx. Those companies' trucks are such a longstanding part of the landscape here, they almost go unnoticed - except maybe when they're blocking a cross street or parked outside your apartment building. They are part of the city's infrastructure, as essential as the subway and the 24-hour deli.
All of which makes the sudden presence of the DHL trucks driving around more noticeable, and even goes as far as to make one think carefully about the habits that inform your choice of parcel carrier. Partly it's their newness and sudden, unmistakable volume, and partly it's the bold branding and shocking color scheme. The phenomenon isn't just in New York, either - I asked our Chicago bureau chief to give me his thoughts on DHL. His instant reaction was to say, "The trucks are everywhere."
The linchpin of DHL's recent reintroduction was a $150 million, six-month integrated marketing campaign that included a heavy spend on TV ads. But what really seemed to take hold in New York - and, so contacts in other markets tell me, elsewhere - was the presence of the trucks themselves. Product distribution was the key part of the marketing mix.
While flooding the marketplace with your product is a tried-and-trusted launch tactic (Sunny Delight's launch in the UK made headlines), the parcel-delivery industry is particularly well-suited for this approach. Ubiquity is a positive attribute for DHL - it's quite a risk to entrust your precious parcel to a relatively unknown company, with the fear lingering in the back of your mind that if too few people are using it, your package may be rattling around an empty truck for days until sufficient others have joined it to make a full-truck shipment.
However, if the consumer sees enough trucks on the road, they know people must be using the service, so they believe that the infrastructure is indeed in place. In fact, I even considered my own conspiracy theory that DHL, during the initial stages of the reintroduction, was sending an entire fleet of mostly empty vans around the city before the brand even launched, so that when the advertising started, customers already knew the fleet was out there, ready for us. A preposterous idea, I'm sure.
Next year, DHL promises to spend even more on television commercials, with a new push to drive home its customer service offerings. It may seem quite early for the company to change its advertising message, but it can easily afford to do so, having done such a great job at reintroducing the brand to the public. Regardless of this year's $150 million media spend, though, it could be argued that the most effective branding element of all were the trucks themselves - the ultimate outdoor media vehicle.