A CELEBRITY BIRD TO THE RESCUE!

In 1986, when Purolator Courier’s board of directors, loaded with men of awesome pedigree and wealth, and one lady, a distinguished Margaret Thatcher type, living caricatures of the Protestant power elite, heard my plan to enlist the services of the Road Runner to be the spokesbird of their ailing overnight delivery business, all I received was blank stares. My imitation of this swift desert bird and my delivery of “Beep! Beep!” woke up a few dozers, but it was obvious I was presenting to the only human beings in America who were not familiar with Road Runner. But their $600 million company was being destroyed by the FedEx revolution, and they were desperate for a miracle to get Purolator’s phones to ring and boost revenues immediately, or they would be out of business in the near future. So I playedthem a vintage Road Runner cartoon. It was an astonishing spectacle--America’s corporate elite watching a kid’s cartoon in the middle of a business day to decide the fate of a great American corporation.

 

I knew we were plugged into a genuine icon of mass/pop culture. Road Runner, the symbol of Purolator, scoots across the ground at lightning speed, leaving behind a trail of smoke and says only two words: Beep! Beep! Our copy said: The Road Runner works for Purolator Courier. We run rings around the Coyote Courier! And our memorable, mnemonic phone number was 1-800 BEEP BEEP. Before we premiered our campaign, a prominent story appeared in The New York Times, with our toll-free number buried in Phil Dougherty’s Advertising column. That morning,15,000 phones rang off the hook! Overnight, Purolator was saved. Only months later, Emery Freight, shaken by Purolator’s eruption, bought Purolator’s investors out at a huge multiple, ridding themselves of this newly vigorous threat to their No. 2 position behind FedEx. The wealthy board that had never heard of Road Runner laughed, running all the way to the bank, and astoundingly, Emery Freight never adopted the Road Runner for themselves. Go figure.