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FEDEX SUIT JOINS UPROAR OVER POSTAL SERVICE ADS

By Published on .

The U.S. Postal Service, facing a lawsuit from Federal Express Corp. over USPS' Priority Mail campaign, is defending that advertising even as it pulls back on a second effort.

Just days after getting complaints from the Magazine Publishers of America, American Business Press and Newspaper Association of America, the postal service last week pulled several of the most strongly worded of its ads comparing the effectiveness of direct mail with other forms of advertising.

"Research indicates that 46% of the people who watch TV ignore the commercials," said the headline on one of six ads in the series prepared by Wunderman Cato Johnson, New York, intended to get marketers to use direct mail in their media mix. "When you advertise on television, nearly half of the audience ignores your message," copy continued.

Other ads in the series targeted radio, magazines and newspapers as ad media.

"The ads were pretty aggressive and even contentious, and we felt the tone was being misunderstood by our [media] customers," said a postal service spokesman in explaining the decision to pull the ads.

He said the campaign will continue, but with the ads rewritten.

`DENIGRATING OTHER MEDIA'

"Our pages are there as a canvas," said Business Week Publisher David Ferm. "I do believe the postal service has a story to tell, and they should tell it . . . But they can also promote direct mail without denigrating other media."

Business Week took ads from the USPS, but Mr. Ferm said "the ad [referring to magazines] that provoked the reaction . . . did not run in Business Week."

While pulling those ads, the postal service displayed no similar intention to alter the much more heavily advertised Priority Mail campaign, which compares the cost of express mailing a package through USPS with the costs of sending through FedEx and United Parcel Service.

The Priority Mail campaign from FCB/Leber Katz Partners is said to have increased revenues from the program by $1 billion.

Postal service Senior VP-Marketing Loren Smith left his post Nov. 1 after acknowledging he failed to fully inform the service's Board of Governors of his shift of $87 million in marketing money to support additional advertising, much of it for Priority Mail.

WHAT FEDEX WANTS

FedEx last week sued USPS in U.S. District Court in Memphis, Tenn., asking for an injunction preventing the postal service from making price comparisons. The suit also asks that USPS be forced to run corrective advertising.

FedEx argues that while it delivers from site to site in two days, the postal service's two-day claim is based on time from post office to post office, not actual delivery.

The suit also says USPS' ad claims on Saturday surcharge are misleading.

"Our agency had very qualified counsel that reviewed the ads before they were broadcast," the USPS spokesman said. "This issue was raised before with the [TV] networks, and they said, `No, it falls within our parameters."'

The spokesman said USPS hadn't yet seen the suit at press time.

Contributing: Jane Hodges.

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