Categorized | marketing

What next? Advertising stamped onto envelopes?

Postal truck with advertising
The Post Office makes most of its money from junk mail. So why not junk trucks? Junk post offices?

In further evidence that “Richard needs a life,” the USPS inspector general has a fascinating blog today (yes, the U.S.P.S. inspector general has a blog — tagline (I’m not joking): “pushing the envelope” (*grooooooan*) — and, as a direct marketing pro, I tend to read the thing like morning scripture). Well, back to the fascinating blog post. It seems the USPS IG, facing the same desperate flows of red ink as much of the rest of us, thinks he can throw himself a lifeline by renting out the sides of postal trucks to advertisers. FedEx and UPS, I surmise, will not be invited to this party.

In these times of doing what it takes to maintain fiscal solvency, what if the Postal Service started selling its prime advertising real estate to generate revenue? Major advertisers might welcome the opportunity to place their ad on hundreds of thousand Postal Service trucks all over the country. Or smaller advertisers could take advantage of purchasing wall-space in a post office.

While the multi-axle roadkill grinders that move mail cross-country will probably be well out of the range of a startup or small business, the idea does raise interesting possibilities for local delivery postal trucks. Now, the Inspector General is eyeballing as much cash as he can lay his mitts on, but the U.S.P.S. could be doing communities a favor by reserving some or all of local trucks to local advertising.

There are, however, some pretty significant roadblocks to the IG’s cunning plan.

Let’s start with the IG himself throwing a cold bucket of reality on the idea:

More importantly, what would the limitations be? When Major League Baseball proposed placing ads on bases, there was a major league backlash. How would the public react to advertising on Postal Service property? Would certain types of advertising be out of bounds? The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act does not permit the Postal Service to undertake new nonpostal products. Would selling advertising on Postal Service property violate the law? And how would selling advertising space affect the Postal Service’s brand?

What the IG doesn’t mention is that once they allow advertising, it’s like the camel’s nose in the tent (you know the expression, right: if the camel’s nose is in the tent, the camel is sure to follow). Selling advertising on the walls and truck sides is great, but eternally damned marketers like myself can think of a million more ideas. How about “ad stickers” that the post office automatically slaps on to the back of every envelope? How about ads on stamps? Coca Cola Zero stamps and 10$ off anything in the store Linens and Things stamps? How about sticking logos all over postal uniforms and turning them all into NASCAR drivers with funny shorts who drive really slowly?

This is, of course, not really funny business. If the Post Office starts renting out advertising space, the only fair way it can do so is to allow plenty of room for small and local businesses. This would provide immense opportunities to the small business entrepreneurs out there.

There’s also an important lesson to take away. Advertising can literally be anywhere. Many moons ago, I worked with an entrepreneur whose sole business was selling advertising space on school textbook covers. You remember school textbook covers? Those grocery bag brown monstrosities we all had to cover our biology and algebra books with — they even came with a convenient box to put your name on. This dude went out to major advertisers and sold placements right on the cover, back cover, and inside flaps, so that all the bright young minds in our elementary, middle, and high schools could spend all day staring at Mattel or Pepsi ads whenever they reached for their civics or math books. The cost of the advertising paid for the printing and distribution of the textbook covers, so he was able to offer them for free to the schools, who were perennially out of money and looking for any bargain they could scratch up. Free textbook covers was just the omelette the captain ordered.

This guy who came up with the idea? He retired in five years with tens of millions of dollars stuffed in his piggy bank.

Similarly, in the year I won two DMA (Direct Marketing Association) awards, one a gold and the other their first-ever Interactive Award, the non-profit gold award went to a campaign where student workers were handed bags and bags of leaves and stamped on each leaf a little ad with a contact number. Since it was fall, they then took these bags and bags of stamped leaves and tossed them on the ground all over campus. Once people started figuring out the leaves had these cool ads on them, the entire campus went crazy trying to find them, and the campaign posted an impossibly phenomenal response rate.

If fallen leaves can be an ad, anything can.

So as you hear the wind whistling through your empty bank account, consider the post office trying to rent out space on its trucks or walls. If a post office truck can be an ad, anything can. If a textbook cover can be an ad, anything can. Even a leaf can be an ad.

If all you’re thinking about is print, TV, radio, and Web advertising, I suggest you start looking around at your world a bit differently.

And don’t be surprised if the next stamp you see on a letter is . . . one for Shoestring Venture!

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