Reports conflict over USPS freight truck advertising

In spite of several media reports indicating that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is in a partnership with Colorado-based advertiser Lighted Promotions to sell advertising on up to 17,000 postal freight delivery trucks in 11 states nationwide, a USPS spokesperson told Direct Marketing News on Dec. 2 that no such arrangement exists.

“Over the years, we have visited the opportunity of advertisements for contracted vehicles used on highway contract routes,” said USPS spokesperson David A. Partenheimer. “While there seems to be an opportunity for revenue generation through an advertisement initiative, there are some challenges, including controlling how advertisements may impact the Postal Service brand, one of our greatest assets. Currently, we do not have, nor have we ever had, a contract to roll this out.”

In a follow-up interview, Partenheimer said that Lighted Promotions “has been providing ad space on some trucks owned by contractors” which he said are not owned by the Postal Service. “However, the 17,000 in 11 states is incorrect,” he said, adding that Lighted Promotions has been trying to correct this information.

However, Lighted Promotions CEO David Goter confirmed the 17,000-truck program in an email Dec. 2 and indicated it is indeed an agreement with the USPS. The relationship is promoted on Lighted Promotions’ website, on its “services” page: “Through its exclusive relationship with the U.S. Postal Service, Lighted Promotions can target virtually any demographic and/or any geography nationwide. No other outdoor advertising medium can accomplish the same scope, reach and scale with a single media buy.”

In a follow-up email interview with Lighted Promotions spokesperson Holly Sprague, she clarified that the ads are indeed restricted to independent contractor vehicles.

“LPI’s pilot program is within the part of the Postal Services distribution fleet that is outsourced to private contractors,” she said. “It is the part of the fleet that moves mail from sorting center to sorting center in major metro areas, which is what gives us the ability to target specific demographics and geographies.”

Goter said that there are “no explicit restrictions” as to what advertisements Lighted Promotions can sell for use on these postal vehicles, “although we clear all advertisers, messages and creative with the postal service every time we do a campaign.”

Goter said the campaigns that have been used so far include warnings about highway safety, business services (including rental services), sports marketing, ads for the legal profession, and the travel and tourism industry.

“Our core markets are public/highway safety and travel & tourism currently,” he said.

Goter said that the pilot program was initiated in June 2009. However, Direct Marketing News reported in December 2009 that the USPS Inspector General’s Office had identified several roadblocks to the effort, especially the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which “does not permit the Postal Service to undertake new nonpostal products.”

Post & Parcel, a publication focused on the mailing industry, ran an article this week in which it also discussed the pilot program, stating that the fact that the ads are not in violation of current law because they are solely placed on postal trucks owned by independent contractors and not the USPS itself. That article quotes Goter as saying that that there are “plenty” of advertisers interested in making use of Postal vehicles for their campaigns, and that Lighted Promotions had found a price point at which advertisers were willing to commit.

AdAge reported that price point as being $500-$600 per month.

AdAge also said the USPS confirmed that the program exists, and quoted Goter as saying the agency had already declined ads for political candidates and medical marijuana.

In the follow-up interview, Partenheimer said the Postal Service stands by its original denial of an ad partnership with Lighted Promotions or another vendor. “There are no ads [on trucks], no advertising on our website. Just our own postal messaging,” Partenheimer said, noting that the issue was recently discussed in a congressional hearing, and has been under consideration for some time, but saying that the USPS has not yet entered into any agreements.

“We talked about this in the past as a revenue generating opportunity, but we’re still looking into it,” he said. “We still have not signed any contracts.”

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