USPS Program Encourages Auto Firms to Increase Advertising Through the Mail

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The U.S. Postal Service has rolled out a pilot marketing program to increase Standard A advertising mail by automobile-oriented companies.


The USPS is hoping to generate between $5 million and $7 million dollars of new Standard A revenue in the auto market by advising new and used car dealers, auto parts and service stores and auto insurance and finance companies to include an "Auto Day" logo on their mail pieces. These groups traditionally are infrequent users of the postal service.


The "Auto Day In The Mailbox" program will be launched in the Milwaukee area on May 1 and in the Baltimore area in the summer.


"The program is designed to see if focusing on a specific topic on a particular day of the week, with unique identification of the advertising, will increase the amount of advertising by the automobile-associated business," said Rod DeVar, USPS manager of advertising mail and founder of the program.


The pieces will be delivered on Fridays.


"We conducted focus groups with consumers and dealers around the country back in November and found that consumers' prime shopping day in the auto category is on the weekends, DeVar said. "As a result, we decided Fridays were good days to drop messages into the mail."


The USPS hopes that the auto companies will receive more attention through the program, prompting them to use the mail more.


"Quite frankly, the reason we are focusing on the automotive industry is because we don't get a lot of mail from that category," DeVar said. "Usually, this category distributes their advertising through shared mail like Val-Pak or Advo, or they distribute advertising in local newspapers. In general, the vast majority of the advertising dollars go through the other mediums."


DeVar said that auto dealers may think advertising through the mail is more expensive than other avenues and that they may not realize how effective the mail can be as a broad-based advertising medium.


"We are trying to show [auto companies] that the mail can reach an audience in a pretty unique way that will drive store traffic for them," he said.


To educate consumers about the program, the USPS will send a direct mail postcard to 800,000 Milwaukee consumers for the three Fridays before the program begins. A saturation list of consumers was provided by the USPS' advertising agency, Wunderman Cato Johnson, which also helped devise the program. During the week of April 27, ads will run on local television and in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


The USPS is soliciting participation from area auto companies through mailings and sales calls. It recently attended the Milwaukee Auto Show to solicit dealers. Participants must prepare their mail according to the Enhanced Carrier Route rate categories, such as basic, saturation, and high-density. All letters and flats must have preprinted barcodes. The ECR category requires 200-piece mailings of which at least 10 pieces are sent to the same delivery unit or post office box section, for example.


"ECR is the most profitable rate category for us, and we will be able to monitor the system and assure customers high in-house reliability when mail is sent in this way. It just helps us control and manage the mail better," DeVar said. "It would be difficult if companies gave us 100 mail pieces that go to five different post offices. It would be hard to manage something like that."


Companies must drop their mail at a designated location, and there will be strict requirements governing the days and times the USPS will receive the mail. Participants must place an "Auto Day" logo on the outside of their mail piece.


Although the logo is specifically aimed at consumers, it will be prominently displayed on the tags that accompany the mail trays and sacks in mail plants to help employees better identify the mail.


"We've also got a procedure in place for a big-time internal communications program to educate our people so they'll know to give this program special handling," DeVar said.


Mailers need not be concerned that the program will have a negative effect on the service USPS offers its other customers, he said.


"We are paying particular attention to this," he said, "and one of the main reasons that we have set up such tight scheduling requirements and a reservation system so that customers can let us know way ahead of time when auto day materials will be delivered, is so that we can plan around those times and make sure that we have the resources in place so nobody gets short-changed."


Barry Brennan, director of postal affairs at the Mail Advertising Service Association, Alexandria, VA, said he was giving the USPS the benefit of the doubt.


"The USPS is pilot testing this program right now, and if everybody isn't happy with it -- including nonauto industry mailers -- then the program will not run," he said, adding that MASA is very excited about the program and about the possibility of growing advertising mail in this way.


If the approach is successful, the USPS may introduce other "day-certain" programs, aimed at local supermarkets or the real estate and entertainment industries, for example.
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