Fall 2012

The Restlessness of Objects

Choreographing fulfillment

Jesse LeCavalier

Inventory and architecture merge into a blank surface. From Army Logistician, November–December 1983.

On 25 October 2010, in the atrium of Beijing’s Viva Shopping Mall, a group of thirty performers dressed as UPS drivers and customers spontaneously broke into a series of choreographed dance numbers to a modified version of “That’s Amore.” UPS organized this bit of publicity as part of its “We ♥ Logistics” campaign, designed by Ogilvy & Mather and launched in 2010. Lauren Zhao, one of UPS’s general managers in Northern China, explained: “Having worked at UPS for more than ten years, this is the first time I have seen what we do—logistics—represented as a dance routine.”1 In addition to such events, UPS has launched a range of TV spots that show their shipping and transport operations traversing a frictionless globe to the delight of their customers, also to the tune of “That’s Amore” but with modified lyrics. For example, the original line “When the world seems to shine / Like you’ve had too much wine / That’s amore” gets updated to “When technology knows / Right where everything goes / That’s logistics.”2 In the commercials, UPS is represented by a large golden arrow tracing its way along recognizable urban infrastructures and by its workers as they glide over omnidirectional warehouse floors and slip through Venetian alleys.

As marketing campaigns go, selling logistics is a challenging exercise and the performance in Beijing is an effort to humanize what is largely a technologically driven field. In fact, the choice of words by UPS and Ogilvy & Mather reveals some of the difficulties that lurk in trying to understand something like logistics. Instead of letting it remain in the domain of technocrats and engineers, UPS tries to animate it and to personalize it, even to make it loveable. UPS is not expressly stating that they are good at logistics—that is, they are not making any of the more standard claims of authority. Rather, they present themselves as devotees and are happy to count instead the many ways they love logistics: “We love its precision, its epic scale, its ability to make life better for billions of people. Each day, our customers count on us to choreograph a ballet of infinite complexity played across skies, oceans and borders. And we do. What’s not to love?”3 In addition to framing their concern around love of, affection for, and commitment to logistics, the suggestion that UPS is a choreographer also reveals the need to make sense of an industry that has no fixed form, no real image, and is largely communicated in systems illegible, if not incomprehensible, to humans.

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