The Envelope, Please

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Add this to the what's-old-is-new-again file.

It's funny how Mail-Well Inc.'s new Visulope, its answer to the anthrax scare, looks just like the envelopes its sales staff was handing out at the Direct Marketing Association's fall conference last month. The envelope's original purpose "was to show a barcode inside. We've had it for years," a representative told me at the show. Yet, somewhere along the line, the company came up with a newfangled name and now is heavily hyping the Visulope, which went "from product idea to manufacturing in only two weeks," according to a Mail-Well press release.

A spokesman at Carl Thompson Associates, Mail-Well's PR agency, admitted that the envelope design has been around for more than a decade.

"Basically, it's an old product that's been revived," he said. "That's why we're saying it's new." How's that again? "Well, it went out of production, but it's been reintroduced to the market." Sounds like the release was geared more toward Wall Street, but the company's stock price has dropped in recent days and was trading at $3.90 a share last week, down from $4.14 Nov. 5.

Another press release said the company is working on other products, including an envelope that changes color when it comes in contact with a biological contaminant. I have a feeling those will be in development for quite some time.

In one regard, Mail-Well's strategy is paying off. Two customers have placed orders to buy 1 million Visulopes each, the company said last week, and The Associated Press, Reuters and other news organizations have all reported on its security measures. It's natural for Mail-Well to try and drum up new business, especially after reporting a 14 percent decline in third-quarter sales because of the slowing economy and Sept. 11. Earlier this month, Siebel Systems modified an existing piece of software to target the government's security effort, and Magellan's repositioned several "Safer Travel" items in its latest catalog.

The country needs more confidence right now. If Mail-Well can build some with its Visulope, any name sounds good, but why the need to lie about it?


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