Few companies are as closely linked to one color as United Parcel Service, which is popularly known as Big Brown and whose advertisements used to ask, “What can brown do for you?”
The Atlanta-based United Parcel Service, commonly referred to as UPS or Big Brown, is the largest parcel delivery company in the world. Big Brown delivers over 4 billion packages each year to more than 200 countries. Besides a fleet of 147,000 delivery trucks, UPS has its own airline company with 500 airplanes.
UPS began as a courier service more than 100 years ago. Throughout its long history, the color brown and the famous sword-shaped logo have been inextricably linked to the company. Aside from a few modifications, the famous logo has stayed almost unchanged. UPS and Owens Corning stand out as two companies that have trademarked their signature colors and their logos.
History of UPS and Its First Logos
In 1907, teenage friends Claude Ryan and Jim Casey of Seattle borrowed $100 from a friend to set up a new company. They called it American Messenger Company, and it operated as a small messenger and courier service. Their first office was in the basement of their uncle’s tavern. At first, their employees delivered on foot and bicycle. By 1912, the company had its first delivery van, which was a Ford truck.
Ryan and Casey continued buying trucks as their business expanded. They wanted to paint the trucks matching colors, but they couldn’t decide on the right shade.
In 1916, they hired manager Charles Soderstrom, who came up with the idea to paint the trucks brown. At that time, many trains carried the well-known Pullman Coach sleeper cars. These dark brown coaches were a symbol of power and elegance to many people. Soderstrom suggested that UPS should use the same color to create a similar image.
Soderstrom also pointed out that brown would hide dirt better than other colors. The company’s owners agreed, and they soon settled on the same brown color for their workers’ uniforms.
Read more on famous trademarked colors and how you can trademark a color
A New Identity
By 1916, the company had a new name, United Parcel Service, and a new logo. The logo showed a golden shield with the picture of an eagle holding a package in its talons. This was the first appearance of the shield. In later versions, the shield appeared without the eagle. Jim Casey felt a simple, single shield was the perfect symbol of strength.
In 1937, the acronym UPS first appeared on the logo. The colors were brown and gold. This logo remained untouched for several decades.
Adding a Parcel
In 1961, UPS asked Paul Rand to redesign the logo. Rand was one of the world’s foremost graphic designers. He designed the logos for IBM, Westinghouse, ABC broadcasting and many others. He also created a new logo for Ford Motors, but Henry Ford, Jr., decided it was too modern and never used it.
Rand’s redesign added a humorous element to the shield symbol by adding a wrapped parcel on top of the shield. Rand changed the colors to black and white. The font he used is a trademarked font called UPS Sans.
Rand once said, “I don’t think one can design for permanence. One designs for function, usefulness, rightness and beauty. Permanence is up to God.”
All the same, his much-loved parcel logo lasted until 2003, when the company again changed the shield to better reflect its services, which have expanded far beyond simple parcel delivery. The redesign removed the wrapped parcel and reverted to brown and gold.
Read more on trademarking a logo
Sticking With What Works
UPS has shown fierce loyalty to its original design and colors. Intermittently, UPS executives have toyed with the idea of changing Big Brown’s signature color, but market research has shown this would be disastrous.
In 1998, UPS registered two trademarks for its UPS Brown color. The first trademark defined UPS Brown as the company’s official color. The second prevented other delivery companies from using the same color.
Legal Battles to Protect Big Brown
UPS has not faced major trademark battles, but it has fought some skirmishes.
In 2019, the company filed a lawsuit against three companies with similar names. These were the United Pot Smokers, UPS420.com and UPSgreen.com. All three claimed to be couriers and expeditors of cannabis products. The lawsuits claimed trademark infringement, trademark dilution, false advertising and unfair business practices.
UPS said these companies’ use of the UPS letters and a shield logo are confusingly similar to United Parcel Service’s marks. The lawsuit has not yet been adjudicated.
In 2020, UPS filed a trademark application for UPS HEALTHCARE. This is the company’s specialized medical supply delivery service.
The application, filed with the US Patent and Trade Office in March 2020, signals the company’s plan to use the UPS HEALTHCARE trademark in association with “an unprecedented increase in efforts in coordination with the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state health agencies. UPS Healthcare and UPS operations all over the world are working with many companies and agencies across the public and private sectors.”
The Shield Stays Strong
While UPS has changed its primary services and added new ones over the years, its trademarks have remained the same. The simple symbol of strength and a unified color scheme have reinforced the company’s image as a reliable, trustworthy service provider.
The company has changed its slogans. It has used “we love logistics” and “united problem solvers” in its advertising, but its unchanging trademarks give it an image of unshakeable stability. That’s a good image for a courier company that became a global delivery giant.