What Marketers Can and Can’t Mail During the Holidays

Pandemic-prompted ecommerce purchases created a 25% year-over-year shipping and packages revenue increase

bee bottle
USPS reminds customers about its guidelines of not sending liquor (live bees are OK, though.) Source: Getty Images
Headshot of Heather Fletcher

Live bees are OK to mail via the United States Postal Service (USPS) during the holidays, but bottles of whiskey are not. Pop-up mailers depicting X-ray rooms are welcome, but not explosives. Even performance marketers need reminders like these about what can and can’t be mailed during this month’s package deluge.

USPS decided to highlight the rules because the agency will be dealing with millions and millions of boxes in many shapes and sizes. As of Sept. 30, the USPS saw pandemic-prompted ecommerce purchases create a year-over-year shipping and packages revenue increase of 25%. What’s remarkable about that number is it includes last year’s holiday season of 1.7 billion packages.

That’s why the postal service pivoted the day after the U.S. general election that had required prioritization of record numbers of mail-in ballots. On Nov. 4, USPS highlighted guidelines for all mailers about what USPS allows its customers to send. These guidelines are especially necessary now, because the postal service expects Dec. 14-21 to be the busiest mailing, shipping and delivery week of the season.

While the agency’s cautions against shipping ammunition are largely aimed at average Americans mailing presents to loved ones, USPS said the guidelines also apply to marketers.

USPS senior public relations representative Kim Frum said the No. 1 mistake all postal service customers will make this month is getting mailing addresses wrong, so “never guess at the ZIP code.” Still, Frum and Martin said, mail carriers won’t be Grinches.

“If there is improper postage, no postage, or is below minimum size, greeting cards without a return address will generally be delivered with postage due during the month of December,” Frum said. (This is for domestic First-Class Mail only.)

What about direct mail marketers who want to stand out?

If the postcard from Whalen’s Furniture arrives address-side up, the first thing the recipient notices is it looks like a woman is kicking her way out of it with her wedge platform sandals. This is an example of an irregular-shaped mailer, also known as customized market mail, said Tiffany Narwick-Krivos, vp of business development for ShipShapes, a product of ImageWorks Manufacturing.

Whalen’s Furniture

She said marketers are snapping up oddly shaped, uniquely textured mail from ShipShapes at much higher volumes because of the pandemic. The goofy mail pieces have also yielded clients response rates as much as 300% higher than their traditional direct mail campaigns.

“We are busier this year with B2C, because marketers know everyone is home,” Narwick-Krivos said about her company that sells to b-to-b and B2C marketers. “We have seen about a 15% increase in sales compared to last year.”

Some clients’ b-to-b customers are in their workplaces, though. That’s why marketing agency Verdi Group’s flat direct mail piece that opens as a pop-up of an X-ray room is seeing a 20% lead rate only halfway into the eight-week campaign.

The Verdi Group

When the targets of the campaign, radiology directors and managers at U.S. hospitals, open the mail, a miniature machine, wall stand and patient table appear to depict Carestream’s product launch of its DRX-Compass X-ray Room, said Mary Bonaccio, Verdi Group’s client services director.

“The creative challenge was to prepare an intriguing piece that would have a shelf life,” Bonaccio said. “We know from the Carestream reps and from their customers that our past mailers, particularly dimensional ones, are not only shared with colleagues, but kept on a shelf where they are displayed, often for years.”

Heather Fletcher is a freelance reporter for Adweek. She covers performance and direct marketing.