Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Negative Brand Hijack Hall Of Fame Inductee: U.S. Postal Service

In Insight on October 24, 2008 at 9:15 am
Hello, Newman.

Hello, Newman.

It’s very chic to talk about the power of the consumer and how important it is to engage them with your brand.  There are many great examples that are brought up showing the benefits (Pabst Blue Ribbon) and plenty of examples of what happens when you don’t (Delta). But less frequent is the example of the negative brand hijack. If there were a Hall of Fame of such things, the U.S. Postal would be a charter member.

Over the last 25 years, pop culture has three touch points for the U.S. Postal service:

Cliff Claven, the unbearable know-it-all from the iconic TV show, Cheers.

Newman, the unbearable know-nothing from the iconic TV show, Seinfeld.

The term, “Going Postal” which means going violently crazy (or worse) on people, a reference to several tragic incidents of violence perpetrated by postal employees on their colleagues in the 80s.

Wow. What in the world did the U.S. Postal Service do to deserve that?  Sure, we’ve all had the complaints regarding lost mail or slow service, but for the most part the U.S. Postal service provides and excellent, and indespensible service. There aren’t too many other organizations you deal with directly (they come to your house!) five days a week. Who else would deliver a letter from New York to L.A. for you for 50 cents (and we complain about rate hikes!)?

As a cycling fan, I know that for many years Lance Armstrong rode the U.S. Postal Service team, but for all his celebrity, I doubt many non-cycling fans knew what team Armstrong rode for. 

Maybe the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t feel the need to rehabilitate its brand since they have no direct competition. But it seems to me they are ripe for a make-over.  Here’s three things I would do:

1. New uniforms – You can’t look at a mail carrier without thinking of Newman or Claven (or both). Changing the uniform helps break that association.

2. Empower mailcarriers to be the social glue of the community. The mailman is the one person in your neighborhood who has a connection to everyone. That’s an incredibly powerful, and underutilized opportunity. Could the USPS partner with a charity? Engage voters (in a non-partisan way)? Encourage healthy living? Assist seniors?

3. Utilize social media – I’d be willing to bet that a Twittering mailcarrier would gather a following quickly. Without divulging his geographic location, or the names of people on his route, it would be easy to imagine both comedy and drama.

Sometimes a brand chooses to reinvent themselves. Sometimes the need for reinvention is thrust upon them.

  1. Great post and great suggestions. I’d never really thought about it but you’re totally correct.

    I have seen signs of life from the USPS, however. Their association with Joseph Jaffe was smart and inspiring. You can listen to him speak with Cat Moriarty from the USPS on the JaffeJuice podcast #113.

    Their Deliver magazine is also fantastic. I trudge through a lot of B2B and industry magazines, but I really look forward to this one. The articles are insightful and the design is top-notch. More here:

    (I never thought I’d be raving about the Postal Service. Odd.)

    Anyway, great post!

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