For 20 years, the U.S. Postal Service has had one hand tied behind its back in competing with rival package carriers: It had no easy way to quickly confirm delivery.
Next month, it wipes out that competitive disadvantage. And it will boast loudly of the breakthrough in an effort for its Priority Mail that could hit the $50 million spending level.
Delivery confirmation will be the biggest new marketing program for the postal service this year.
Initial TV spots break on broadcast morning programming and in print ads on March 15. The advertising from Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, doesn't directly mention rivals Federal Express Corp. and United Parcel Service, but instead shows the USPS technology in use.
Later ads will play humorously on delivery-confirmation features.
"Flying saucers, Big Foot sightings and Priority Mail," says the voice-over in one TV spot. "Now one of them can be confirmed." Another plays on the price-comparison theme USPS was using for Priority Mail but which ended in late 1998: "You need delivery confirmation. Are you willing to pay less for it?"
Unlike Federal Express and UPS, which include delivery confirmation in their pricing, the postal service will charge extra--35 cents for Priority Mail packages and up to 60 cents for parcel post. Business customers that are heavy users of the service and use electronic software get a break on those charges.
Although it comes at an extra cost, USPS finally has confirmation ability; a barrage of FedEx radio spots earlier had compared its ability to confirm delivery with the postal service's lack of ability.
USPS WILL OFFER WEB SITE
Like FedEx and UPS, the USPS also will have a Web site that allows customers to enter a number and see if the package is delivered.
"It's very important," said Chet King, a postal service marketing specialist, of delivery confirmation. "It levels the playing field. It allows us to close the loop for package delivery and enters us into the electronic area with technology."
Mr. King said both consumers and business users wanted the service; he downplayed the importance of not including confirmation in the cost of the service.
He said the market would determine whether consumers would pay extra for the service.
In addition to advertising, the USPS will support the new service with direct mail.
FedEx said last week it planned no special advertising to challenge the new postal service confirmation capability. A company spokeswoman, however, pointed out that FedEx offers tracking of packages as well as delivery confirmation, without additional charges.
Copyright February 1999, Crain Communications Inc.