Custom Postage Goes Commercial
In mid-2004, the U.S. Postal Service ran a seven-week market test of custom postage for consumers; the success of that initiative led it to relaunch the program in May 2005 as a longer-term trial. This year, the Postal Service gave its stamp of approval to a one-year test of custom First Class, Priority and Express postage for commercial efforts.
According to Nick Barranca, vice president of product development for the Postal Service, this commercial application came about due to the recent amendment of a Civil War-era law that prohibited commercial messages from being used on any obligation of the federal government. The law was changed to exclude stamps, paving the way for the current market test, which is scheduled to run through May 17, 2007.
In the few months the program has been in place, reports Barranca, response has been strong, with three vendors—Stamps.com, Endicia.com and Zazzle.com—applying for licenses to print the stamps, and a number of national and local mailers—including Hewlett-Packard and Michigan nonprofit The Heat and Warmth Fund—testing them. “There’s been interest from a lot of mailers,” says Barranca. “We have a lot of small business using it locally—real estate companies, insurance companies. … There are some large, well-known companies that are looking to do it, too.”
For mailers interested in testing custom postage, Barranca does state that there are restrictions, which will be enforced at the postage-provider level. Some of these guidelines include prohibitions on stamps that:
6 Infringe on copyrights, patents, trademarks or intellectual property. You will be required to prove you own the rights to any images used.
6 Use the likeness of any celebrity, politician, religious leader or any other famous person.
6 Make inflammatory, libelous, deceptive or otherwise controversial claims. “We want to stay out of using the stamp as a public forum for causes. We don’t want to make it a debate,” explains Barranca.
6 Are obscene, pornographic, profane or derogatory.
6 Represent illegal activities.
6 Contain promotional messages. While URLs, logos and company names all can be used, messages regarding sales cannot. Similarly, stamps cannot be used as coupons.
6 Are used on mail efforts within the alcohol, tobacco or gambling industries.
Currently, the Postal Service has no plans to broaden the program beyond First Class, Priority and Express classes, but Barranca does not completely rule out an expansion of the program. “This is a test to measure what the impact is, what the segmentations are, what demographics are using it. This is for one year, and we have the option to extend it for another year,” he explains.