Band's Name Dispute Leads to Cross-Promotion Deal

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Think of it as a David-and-Goliath battle with a dance pop sound track and a 37-cent stamp.
The U.S. Postal Service will promote the album of the band, Postal Service, as part of a new cross-promotional marketing agreement.

When the behemoth U.S. Postal Service found out that a young rock band had named itself "Postal Service," executives weren't happy. They sent a cease-and-desist letter to the band's label, Seattle-based independent Sub Pop Records.

But what began as an argument over name rights turned into the mail-delivering institution's first cross-promotional music deal.

Tracks in the mail
The members of Postal Service -- Seattle rocker Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Los Angeles-based electronica maven Jimmy Tamborello -- created their current record by sending tracks and lyrics back and forth to each other via the postal service. Hence, the name.

Sub Pop executives explained the back story and suggested that the USPS turn the musicians into marketing partners instead of adversaries. The USPS ultimately agreed to let the band keep using the name via a licensing deal, and will take advantage of the musicians' hipster cachet through some innovative co-promotions.

"We found a place in the middle where all our interests can be served," said Jonathan Poneman, Sub Pop's owner and founder. "There's a real spirit of cooperation."

Playing at a conference
Postal Service, the band, is set to perform at an annual conference of 800 senior Postal Service executives in a few weeks, and there are possibilities for using the band's music in USPS ad campaigns and promotions.

"It's a great way for us to extend our brand into new areas," said Gary Thuro, manager of communication services for USPS. "They reach a young audience that's very important to our future, and music is such a powerful medium."

Also under consideration: using local USPS facilities as a distribution point for the Postal Service album, a move that mirrors what many record labels are trying to do in finding alternative distribution.

No stranger to entertaiment
The USPS is no stranger to Hollywood, having co-marketed films such as DreamWorks' Shrek and Universal's Cat in the Hat.

The Postal Service album, Give Up, is on its way to 1 million units sold, without much marketing investment from its small label. It's gathered steam over time in the form of radio play and glowing reviews in music magazines, and the band has a fervent niche following.

"We could've abandoned the name," Mr. Poneman said, "but it would've been a significant setback. Name recognition is very important to us."

Give Up is the second best-selling record that Sub Pop has ever had. The first was by Nirvana.

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