Why the USPS should make older customers a priority

When UPS found itself overwhelmed by packages on Christmas Eve—resulting in many parcels not being delivered in time—I was reminded of the original package delivery service... the United States Post Office. (The USPS was in the news at Christmas too; a ‘temporary’ rate increase was approved on Dec. 24.

The USPS recently got a new agency-of-record, McCann Erickson. (Full disclosure: I was Creative Director at an affiliated agency, MacLaren-McCann, in Calgary, Canada.) McCann’s first work was a TV spot promoting package delivery services, built around the theme of Priority: You. You probably caught it running last summer.

According to Leslie Sims, McCann’s executive creative director, the inspiration for the campaign was the notion that the USPS’ priority is the American people, while its competitors in the package delivery category, UPS and FedEx, are really interested in serving their shareholders.

That probably went over well when they pitched the spot to Nagisa Manabe, the USPS’ CMO, but the truth is, the USPS’ priority right now is that it’s in an existential battle for it’s very survival. It’s losing $25 million a day, which is the result of email replacing letters, spam replacing junk mail, e-commerce replacing things like printed utility bills, and of course UPS and FedEx taking the lion’s share of package delivery. 

The spot, which features real postal workers as actors, is well written and beautifully produced. And, for a moment, it will make you think, yeah, I really should use the post office instead of UPS. But it’s not working to solve the postal service’s real problem, which is that millions and millions of Americans are finding it easier and easier to imagine an America without a postal service at all.

What does this have to do with older consumers? The short answer is that the postal service should focus its next ad on baby boomers and their parents. Here's why:

Although older consumers are increasingly heavy web users, they are still far more likely than younger consumers to send and receive real letters. They’re more likely to rely on bills arriving in the mail, and checks being sent out. They still send real Christmas cards. Their response rates are higher on direct mail. But far more important than that, older people living independently are the people who most appreciate the daily visit from their letter carrier. 

Many older consumers are lonely, and a few words from the letter carrier brighten their lives. The letter carrier is one person they can count on for a daily visit, who might notice something amiss at the house.  

Imagine the power of an ad campaign that tells true stories about all the things that letter carriers dobesides carrying the mail—because those are the things that truly emphasize the difference between the USPS and private carriers.

There are over 250,000 letter carriers, so there must be millions of heart warming stories such a USPS campaign could draw from. In the campaign I imagine, real customers and real letter carriers would recall the carriers’ small—and occasionally large—daily acts of kindness and heroism. Mailmen returning lost dogs. And kids. “When my mom had her stroke, it was Skip that called 911...” You get the idea.

Customers—and unlike UPS or FedEx, by ‘customers’ I mean all of us—could nominate their carrier, giving the campaign a natural social media extension. Does the USPS really want to ensure that there’d be huge political fallout for gutting the service? Then it needs to subtly spread the message that if it wasn’t for the mailman keeping an eye on the baby boomers’ aging parents, baby boomers themselves would have to do so. And, they can subtly remind aging boomers that they’ll be able to count on their kids even less. 

The campaign we here @BrandROI imagine would not exclusively feature (or focus on) older consumers, but it would skew older. That’s an audience that makes heavier use of the USPS, and has the political clout the USPS is sure to need, if it’s to emerge unscathed from this decade.

Nagisa Manabe: We should talk. My number’s 816.416.9235.