Boeing learns there are strings attached

The National Labor Relations Board is gently suggesting that Boeing should maintain a factory in Washington state instead of South Carolina.  When the NLRB “gently suggests” something, that tends to involve filing a complaint that alleges unfair labor practices.  In this case NLRB felt that Boeing’s relocation to the Palmetto State was retaliatory against the union that represents those who would work in the Washington plant.

As one would expect, conservatives roundly criticized the NLRB for bullying Boeing.  Government, the allies of Boeing would argue, should not direct business practice, nor pick winners and losers in business matters.

But Boeing is hardly a poster child for the ideals of the free market.

In 2010, Boeing spent almost $18 million lobbying the government and over $2.6 million in campaign donations to candidates and PACs.  In return for these efforts, Boeing rakes in over $16 billion in government contracts (second only to Lockheed Martin).  That’s a pretty good return on investment.

Boeing isn’t alone – many companies, especially those in line for large defense department contracts, play the same game.  But when a sizable chunk of any company’s business relies on the playing the political system, the company can’t be surprised when politics winds up getting in the way of business.

As Former President Gerald Ford put it, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

Do you still get this joke?

FedEx is spending lots of money on online advertising hammering away at an proposed regulatory change that would benefit UPS.  Using the parlance of our times, they are calling it the “Brown Bailout” – since the term “bailout” has such high negative connotations.

I’ve criticized this campaign before for tactical flaws – many of which have been corrected in the year since it launched.  And the people in charge of the campaign messages have always done a good job of explaining a complex issue completely in a simple – and funny – way with great videos.

But here’s the rub: those videos, while once effective, are outdated.  Those UPS whiteboard commercials are two or three years old, and the company has moved to an ad campaign which highlights “logistics.”  If FedEx’s government affairs division wanted to really hammer UPS, the new ads are quite mockable.

By recycling a year-old campaign, FedEx is taking a shortcut.  It would be like bringing a knife to a gun fight – but luckily for them, UPS is bringing a whiffle bat.  In the year and a half since FedEx has been running the Brown Bailout campaign, the best UPS could muster is this visually thrilling online press kit that could serve as that antidote to caffeine scientists have been searching for: