Monday, February 13, 2012

The United States Postal Service Wants You Back

This post is one part Public Service Announcement and one part rant. Today's theme from your host at And Now a Word From Our Sponsors is this: Paper is not an infallible answer to the Information Age problem of identity theft. 

There, I've said it. It had to be said because someone out there is spreading some false information. And that someone is the United States Postal Service.  In an attempt to get Americans to come back to the glory days of paper stamps and physical letters, USPS's latest commercial invokes some pretty bizarre claims. You can view the commercial here: (sorry, this is the only version I could find and it won't allow me to embed the video into my post!)

Although literally true, this ad is dangerously inaccurate.  The voice over is playing with the idea that paper is safe, and computers are not.  It's just not that simple.  The ad is also trying to convince businesses that paper is better for business, and safer for customers.  It's as if USPS has forgotten that the security risks of hard copy are part of what got us to this point in the first place. Do they want us to believe that crime never happened back when we wrote everything down on paper?  If that were the case, why do we bother with all this highfalutin' technology in the first place? Frankly, it seems like USPS thinks the bad guys have become so sophisticated that they've forgotten how to steal paper checks, bank statements, credit applications, and vital information (like Social Security numbers, birthdays, and pin numbers) right from that safe piece of paper tucked into your mailbox by your friendly neighborhood post carrier. I can assure you that they haven't. But you don't have to rely on my word for it- just turn to any of the millions who suffer the pains of identity theft day in and day out. It's enough to keep you awake at night.

Don't get me wrong--I like mail.  I probably use the postal service more than your average person.  I mail a paper check to my landlord to pay rent each month.  Tucking that check into the little envelope reminds me of bringing my milk money to school back in kindergarten. I also send Christmas cards every year.  I love the charming tradition of hand writing a little note to each of my friends and family to wish them well in the New Year. I love getting cards in return. It's exciting checking the mailbox in December. We always display the cards we receive no the back of our front door. I try to mail post cards whenever I travel and I have a couple friends and family members who send some our way, too. As I've mentioned before, I have family abroad ('ello England!) and my husband and I are constantly sending and receiving packages back and forth with them.

But then again, as much as I am a steady patron of the mail, the mail isn't always good to me in return.  For instance, our Christmas parcel from England this year apparently made it across the Atlantic (well done, Royal Mail), only to be held up, lost, and ultimately returned back to sender a couple days ago.  We're in February.  Thanks, USPS. 

So, lesson #1: Don't be inept.  I think that's a valid mantra for any business.  If you've had to wait in line at a post office branch in the past year I'm sure you've witnessed no end of incompetence and frustration with USPS. They could probably stand to use the money spent on this advertisement on direct back towards accomplishing their basic goals. Keep in mind, this is the same business that has recently proposed eliminating Saturday delivery, eliminating next day delivery, and this year has already raised delivery rates. Fantastic.

Lesson #2: This ad doesn't work. They need Americans to get excited about sending a letter.  They won't succeed by trying to scare us back into using the mail.  It's like an abusive relationship. Instead, USPS needs to rally the troops around the mail.  Then need the people to rise up and "rage against the dying of the light," before this exquisite tradition becomes extinct. 

The better commercial would be a romanticized depiction of people sending and receiving letters. It should start off back in ye olde days and bring us to present day.  It should go through the intervening generations like the second Budweiser Prohibition Super Bowl spot below.

The USPS needs to show people opening letters and finding secret little trinkets inside, the type of physical item that you can't transmit via email (even if you can order it on and have it delivered).  A great commercial for the mail would show people reacting emotionally to the physical connection that mail provides. We should see a child jumping for joy at seeing his name on the letter from grandma.  We should see an older couple sorting through their drawers where they've hidden little mementos through the years to find, "I've kept every letter you ever sent me!"

That's what USPS needs.  Not some ad that tries to lull us back into using paper by scaring us with today's terror of computer viruses and hackers.  Not some ad that tries to fool us into thinking we're back in "1985"... that reminds me of that song by Bowling For Soup.

Damnit, USPS, mail rocks. Why you gotta go and do me like that and create such a weird, manipulative commercial?  I hate it when we fight. We can talk about making up when you deliver my Christmas parcel. 


  1. A few weeks ago, my father was home when the mail was delivered and he immediately sorted through it when the mailman put it through our mail slot. In it was one of those certified mail cards that they leave when they attempt to deliver certified mail and no one is home. So my father caught up to the mailman, who was on his way next door, and asked him for the mail. The mailman didn't have it. They didn't even plan on attempting to actually deliver the certified mail. Easier to just make everyone go the post office to pick it up, right?

    I love "snail mail" took, and while I love your commercial ideas (and think perhaps you missed your calling to work in advertising!) I think it's this incompetence, which, as you pointed out, we've all experienced, that is doing them the most harm. How about they implement a plan to become more efficient and customer-oriented, and then advertise THAT?

    1. That's unbelievable... except I totally believe it. We could start a support group for everyone who has been screwed over by the mail. At the very least, someone should plan an intervention. We can start with, "Dear Mail, it's not us--it's you."
      Thanks for the comment and the compliments!