The word bailout has gone from descriptive to derogatory.
The FedEx-sponsored Web site BrownBailout.com (brown is both U.P.S.’s color and nickname) says that U.P.S. is “quietly seeking a Congressional bailout designed to limit competition for overnight deliveries.” Along with a “bailout-o-meter” showing U.P.S.’s revenue, and a spoof of a U.P.S. commercial, the site includes statements like, “This is a bailout, plain and simple, and the American people won’t stand for it.”
FedEx’s casting of a labor-law dispute as a bailout has raised ire at U.P.S. and at the Teamsters union, which said on Tuesday that it planned to respond with its own public relations campaign.
Some advertising experts said FedEx was putting its own brand at risk by so aggressively attacking a competitor and accusing U.P.S. of taking a federal bailout.
“Hinging so much of this — even the site itself and the URL name — to a bailout brings some pretty significant risks,” said Scott Elser, a partner in LaunchPad Advertising, which is not working with either company. “It’s arguably one of the most controversial terms that you can define in politics today. They draw you there based on that, and you don’t have to surf very long to realize that this is clearly not a bailout as most consumers and business people would define it, which is writing a check to a troubled business.”
“It’s a little bit of a bait and switch,” Mr. Elser said, which “has the ability to potentially harm their brand.”
“FedEx is appearing to spend millions of dollars to try to convince Congress that a FedEx driver delivering a package is different from a U.P.S. driver delivering a package,” said Malcolm Berkley, a U.P.S. spokesman.
FedEx’s labeling of the legislation as a bailout was wrong, he said.
“There’s clearly no way we’re seeking a bailout. In fact, what we’re doing is working to eliminate an earmark that has been given to FedEx for some years,” he said.
“I give them credit for inventiveness,” said Steve Centrillo, a principal at A-Team Advisors, a consultant to advertising agencies that is based in New York.
Pinning the problems on U.P.S. rather than on unionization helped FedEx avoid sticky labor relations questions, he said.
But, Mr. Centrillo said, the use of bailout was “the most questionably ethical thing on the site.
“It’s taking a word that is extremely loaded right now, and implying that somehow, the government is writing a check to U.P.S., which is clearly not the case.”