With historic losses looming, Postal Service launches new ad campaign

September 29, 2011

On the verge of reporting historic losses, the U.S. Postal Service is launching a new TV advertising campaign designed to slow the migration away from snail mail.

Americans watching college football games and news broadcasts in the next week may notice new ads from the agency — long known for its campy messages promoting Priority Mail shipping services. Now, the “If it fits, it ships” campaign will share airtime with two 30-second spots designed to remind customers that paper mail, unlike e-mail, can’t be hacked, and that letter carriers are still providing reliable and safe deliveries to doorsteps.

“A refrigerator has never been hacked,” an announcer says in the first message as an actress pins a paper bill to her fridge.

In the other ad, a smiling letter carrier is seen walking her route while an announcer reminds viewers that hand-delivered messages ensure that “important letters and information don’t get lost in thin air, or disappear with a click.”

“We’re not trying to be Luddites here. We’re not trying to say technology is bad. But the predictions of how fast customers would leave us were overstated,” said Joyce Carrier, manager of advertising and media planning for the Postal Service. “The switch has been much slower than originally anticipated.”

But are the new ads too little too late?

The Postal Service will announce Friday that it lost up to $10 billion this fiscal year, a historic sum triggered by declining mail volume and growing labor costs. The shortfall is forcing postal officials to renege on mandatory annual payments of about $5.5 billion required to prefund future retirement benefits.

As the Postal Service trims costs by closing post offices and processing facilities and by offering worker buyouts, it spent $145 million for all of its print, television and online advertising in 2010 — a roughly $40 million jump from previous years. That’s a fraction of the amount spent by UPS, FedEx and other national brands, Carrier said.

The Postal Service is willing to spend more ad dollars as new market research suggests customers still feel secure about using and receiving paper mail, Carrier said. And postal officials take no issue with carrying reams of junk mail to American households each year, knowing that marketing materials delivered to mailboxes guarantee a higher exposure rate for advertisers eager to reach mass audiences — even if most people throw the mail out.

With junk mail on the rise, more-profitable first-class mail is down in the last decade, dropping to 78 billion pieces delivered in 2010 from 103 billion pieces in 2001, according to the Postal Service.

Carrier said every 1 percent decline in overall mail volume equals $300 million in lost revenue. And with more declines anticipated, “we just want to slow it down,” she said.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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