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The U.S. POSTAL SERVICE has proclaimed Friday "Auto Friday" in Milwaukee and Baltimore, and that's a good day for local direct mailers but a headache for newspapers.

The postal service's "Auto Friday" program offers marketers that meet certain requirements the opportunity to pay bulk mail rates for delivery on a specific day. The program has been testing in Milwaukee and will expand to Baltimore June 29 (AA, June 1).

It's aimed mostly at local mailers that mail in sufficiently large numbers to produce mail sorted by carrier route. The postal service assures Friday delivery if mailers use its new "Auto Friday" logo and deliver to certain post offices at a certain time of day.


While the current program only covers Fridays, the postal service says other days of the week could be used for other sorts of advertising.

Y&R Advertising, New York, has created TV commercials with humorous situations that call for a new car and suggest the Friday mail is where to look to replace it. Print ads also are included.

"Auto Friday" is one of two tests aimed at seeing how local and national marketers could take advantage of day-certain mail delivery and, in the process, boost postal revenue.

A second program, about to be tested in Cincinnati, more directly targets national mailers. Bulk mailers that make an advance reservation for a specific day, up to a year in advance, and provide mail at a specific time to local post offices get assurance -- though no guarantee -- that the mail will be delivered on a specific day.

"With advertising mail in general our mission is to improve the service quality and provide greater reliability or consistency," said Rod DeVar, postal service manager of advertising mail business growth. "For some advertisers that is two-day delivery. Some advertisers, though, have a single day [they need] and we are going to test a number of concepts."

"Auto Friday" represents a test of mailings by category.

"On that day we deliver [auto] mail with a higher reliability, and our ads are conditioning consumers to look for auto advertisers," Mr. DeVar said. "We are creating a day of the week that is special for a category of advertiser."


Newspapers and some mailer groups are expressing strong concerns about the moves, though Mr. DeVar said the postal service is hoping to use the techniques to increase the volume of mail, and he denied the move is aimed at competing with newspapers.

John Sturm, president-CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, charged the postal service's real intent is to steal business from newspapers.

"The post office is singling out newspapers once again for government competition," he said. "Here is the government giving advertiser mailers day-certain delivery for 13 cents or 14 cents. Talk about unfair competition . . ."

"It is wrong to favor one business over another," Mr. Sturm said, noting that the postal service marketing plan last September stated that the agency wants to "move substantial revenues from preprinted newspaper inserts into mail."


At the Advertising Mail Marketing Association, President Gene Del Polito also questioned the postal service's treating of immediate delivery as a special service rather than normal service.

"In the guise of new service, they are not serving current customers," he said. "They are drawing aim from other mailers who compete for delivery. The confidence of anyone [who isn't in the auto program about getting delivery] is going to drop."

Mr. Del Polito said his group also fears that day-certain delivery will be seen as a new benefit rather than an expectation and the Postal Rate Commission will subsequently move to charge more for what should be normal service.

Mr. DeVar denied the charges and noted that in Milwaukee car dealers are mentioning their mail messages in their newspaper ads.

A spokesman for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the paper has has run "Auto Friday" ads from the postal service but has seen little impact on its own car advertising, and suspects not much "Auto Friday" mail has actually been delivered.

In Baltimore, officials at The Sun are taking no chances, even as they contend that the postal service campaign is unlikely to take away the paper's dominance in auto advertising.


"We are gearing up a response," said Pam Henson, VP-advertising. "What it does is confuse the consumer."

Ms. Henson noted the newspaper, which like many others produces a total saturation product that it mails, is upset with the postal service's action.

"If our newspaper is a [postal service] partner, it is counterproductive to maintaining the relationship," she said.

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