The Quick and the Cheap: New Positioning for USPS

UPS and FedEx employees have, on occasion, been the heroes of hit movies. They’ve even been sex symbols. The mailmen and women who work for the United States Postal Service don’t enjoy that sort of celebrity status. They have a reputation for less-than- stellar service, and they have less sophisticated technology to work with.

But the USPS does have one advantage over its more glamorous rivals: It’s cheap.

In an ad campaign that breaks today, the USPS is counting on that selling point to resonate with business owners looking for ways to save a buck in tough times. The client, which is suffering its own tough times—the USPS operated in the red last year—is plugging services such as delivery and signature confirmation, but above all it’s touting its price for two-day delivery, starting at $3.85. The goal is to drive home the notion that the Priority Mail service is expedient and a great value.

The campaign is the first from the USPS’ new agency team of Campbell-Ewald in Warren, Mich., and DraftWorldwide in Chicago, which unseated Leo Burnett in Chicago for the account last year. The previous tagline, “Brought to you by the United States Postal Service,” has been tweaked to: “Priority Mail. From the United States Postal Service.” The spot will air through late May and appear again in the fall, said Larry Speakes, USPS manager of advertising.

In the 30-second commercial, a clock runs on the bottom of the screen from the moment a package is handed off by a sender in Dallas until a recipient finds it in New York some 40 hours later. A print ad running in business journals in 10 major cities takes a similar tack.

In the spot, original, high-energy music plays up the intensity of the workers moving the package. There’s also a reality-TV twist: The spot features real-life USPS employees doing their actual jobs.

The agency mailed out a number of test packages to see how long they would take to arrive at their destination, said Mark Simon, evp and creative director at Campbell-Ewald. “We really wanted to show the process,” he said. “You send a letter or a package and it magically gets to its destination. But it’s like a relay race. We wanted to bring a sense of precision and credibility to Priority Mail.”

The campaign includes a display in Times Square. A direct mail campaign that will launch this spring is aimed at small-business owners, who are also the target of the TV and print.

Recent advertising for the USPS was “soft,” as much about brand building as about the products, said Speakes. “This is a pretty straight sell,” he said.

The effort launches at a time when the public largely perceives the USPS as not very reliable or predictable, said Donald Broughton, a transportation analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons in St. Louis. And the USPS lags UPS and FedEx in terms of technology, he said. For example, senders are unable to track their packages in real time, he said.

“Everyone knows that the post office is cheaper, but they also recognize that there’s a lower level of reliability and a lower level of visibility,” Broughton said. “You pay FedEx and UPS for information about the package as much as you pay for the speed. … People pay for service.”

The USPS posted a $676 million net loss in fiscal 2002. As a result, it had to trim its marketing budget significantly, from about $140 million in 2002 to about $99 million for 2003, Speakes said. UPS, which controls about 80 percent of the small-package delivery market, spent about $135 million on measured media through November 2002, according to CMR. FedEx spent about $70 million in that same period.

“We’re obviously limited in dollars, but we make the best of it,” Speakes said. “I think if we do good work, which we’re very confident that we have, it will shine and it will reach who we need to reach.”