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The beauty of bland

By Joan Silverman / March 25, 2002



YOU'VE seen the magazine ads – lavish in space, duller than you thought possible.

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One spread features six office characters, looking contemplative. The background is solid brown, the photos evocative sepia.

The ads are breathtaking in their blandness. That a swath so drab could market any product effectively is nothing short of amazing, which is not exactly what United Parcel Service had in mind when it devoted a full page to the four words, "The amazing color brown."

But amazing it is. In its new $45 million campaign, the largest package-delivery company celebrates "UPS brown," unmistakable on its uniforms and trucks.

UPS is elevating its color to the position of a full-blown brand. "What can BROWN do for you?" is the company's new slogan.

UPS has been sporting brown since 1916. And since then, its signature color has morphed through a range of associations, from the horrific Nazi "brown shirts" to the winning "UPS Guy" in "Legally Blonde." Through it all, the company color has stayed the course.

Brown's closest cousin may well be Army green, the epitome of dependable drab. One doesn't want, say, brilliant reds or yellows in military garb. Plain and unchanging are the notes to aim for – all to soothing effect.

At a time when ads try to dazzle with eye-popping tricks, "Brown" manages to capture our attention for the opposite reason. If anything, these ads are spectacular in their flatness, which may sound like a back-handed compliment.

Until you consider the prospect that in the current climate, with the nation at war, the power of what's familiar has a cachet all its own.

• Joan Silverman is a freelance writer.

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