The Unlikely Intersection of Formula 1 and Global Logistics
In the realm of global logistics, few brands stand as recognisable as DHL. Its ubiquitous yellow and red logo is a familiar sight in virtually every corner of the world, from billboards to the jerseys of the Western Province’s Stormers rugby team. But what many people may not know is the story behind DHL’s distinctive livery. This is not just a tale of corporate branding, but a fascinating intersection of business acumen and the high-stakes world of Formula 1 racing.
Eddie Jordan: The Man Behind the Iconic Brand Change
The man at the centre of this tale is Eddie Jordan, a former racing driver turned business magnate, who founded the Jordan F1 team in 1991. Despite a relatively short tenure as a racing driver, Jordan’s astute business sense quickly made him a force to be reckoned with in the Formula 1 arena. His team might not have clinched the championship, but it was instrumental in launching the career of Michael Schumacher and played an unexpected role in shaping DHL into the brand we recognise today.
Benson & Hedges and DHL: A Complex Sponsorship Story
Our story begins in 1996 when Jordan secured a significant sponsorship deal with Benson & Hedges, a prominent cigarette company. The partnership lasted until Jordan F1’s exit from the sport in 2005, surviving even the increasingly stringent rules on cigarette branding on race cars by the FIA, F1’s governing body. The advertising morphed from Benson & Hedges to Bitten Hisses, then to Buzzing Hornets in 1998, and finally to Bitten Heroes in 2001, depending on the country’s regulations on cigarette advertising.
In 2000, another player entered the scene – Deutsche Post, which joined as a sponsor of the Jordan F1 team. Fast forward to 2002, Deutsche Post acquired DHL, an American-founded logistics company, and broached the idea of making DHL a major sponsor. The proposal also included a shift in the team’s car liveries to DHL’s then white and red branding, to which Jordan agreed.
The Challenge: A Bold Proposal and A Branding Revolution
But a contractual obligation with Benson & Hedges complicated matters. The agreement stipulated that the Jordan F1 cars must bear a yellow and red livery. Faced with a potential conflict between two major sponsors, Jordan convened a meeting with Deutsche Post and DHL to propose a daring solution.
Jordan recounted this pivotal meeting on a podcast with former F1 driver David Coulthard. He challenged DHL to reconsider their brand colours, arguing, “You’ve asked me to try and make DHL the largest logistics brand in the world, and in the current situation, I can’t do that. Every marketing guru will tell you that you should never change the colours of your brand, but here you must bite the bullet and pay the expense for long-term gain.”
The Outcome: DHL’s Iconic Rebranding and Global Recognition
DHL accepted the challenge, and in a bold move, adopted the now-iconic yellow and red branding. It’s a testament to the success of this rebranding that, more than two decades later, DHL continues to operate under this colour scheme. As for Eddie Jordan, he still receives monthly royalties for his innovative idea.
DHL and Formula 1: An Enduring Partnership
By 2004, a year before Jordan F1’s exit, DHL had become F1’s official global logistics partner. The legacy of the Jordan F1 team lived on through its successors – Midland Racing (2006), Spyker (2007), Force India (2008), Racing Point (2018), and most recently, Aston Martin in 2021. This remarkable tale underlines the power of strategic branding and how, with a dash of audacity and a healthy dose of business acumen, an F1 team contributed to the global recognition of one of the world’s leading logistics companies.