Your soggy Valentine

Columnist : Albert Paschall

The approach of Valentine’s Day reminds me to mail early. During the Holidays last year somebody added me to their list and now I feel obligated to send them a greeting. I haven’t been able to respond yet though because after six weeks the Christmas card still isn’t dry.

The soaked salutation was delivered by the US government’s advertising department. Formerly known as the Post Office this change forces your mail box to get loaded up with ad circulars a couple of times a week. My friend’s card got lumped into the mailbox with a soggy 16-ounce batch of this junk that kept the mailbox gate open in a snowstorm.

     The ad-circular or pre-printed supplement as it’s known, for smart advertisers is a staple of their newspaper advertising budgets In the 70’s newspapers made great strides in automation and full color printing to become quite successful at delivering pre-printed advertisements. So successful that by 1980 they had attracted one of the most awesome competitors any industry can have: The United States Government. The US Postal service created a sweetheart deal that turned a quarter of a million hard working mail carriers into the prime purveyors of junk mail.

     Primarily designed for political advertising the Postal Board of Governors inadvertently invented the concept of shared mail. Shared mail is wrapping a bunch of ad circulars together and charging by the pound for delivery. The Governors really went the extra mile to get the ads by substantially discounting the prevailing rates. The Postal Service’s management even invented a new system of addressing through those little obnoxious white cards with blue-faced kids that really should say “have you seen your mail lately?”

     Meanwhile the newspaper industry struck back with innovative home delivery programs, competitive rates and enhanced graphics. Top of the market retailers stayed with the newspapers’ more select marketing leaving the Postal Service to handle the junk end of the business.

     The fixed costs of the United States Postal Service were guaranteed by a resolution of the Continental Congress in 1774. Two hundred and twenty four years later this means that the rest of us are supporting an advertising system that interrupts and frustrates the delivery of important mail. US Postal management, more than 100 of whom received $10,000 performance bonuses last year, deny these discounts are subsidized by those who pay first class rates. On the surface of the numbers that’s true, by like so many government truths these days, its as they say a “narrow” interpretation.

     What the Postal Service doesn’t talk about in public relations literature is the affect that 3.3 million tons of advertising fliers clogging the system each year has on the department’s infrastructure. That averages more than 27,000 pounds for every mail carrier in the system in addition to about 666,000 letters that mail carriers deliver each year. Conveyors, sorting machines and trucks take the beating of 128,000,000 pounds a week of dead weight and the mailing public pays for that every time they buy a stamp. Who can dare blame the innocent carrier for the occasional mis-directed magazine or even a wet letter?

     The US Postal Board of Governors recently added a cent to the cost of a first class stamp. Its 33 cents now to have your soggy Valentine delivered through the rain, the snow or the gloom of night. The odds are high that some day it will get where you send it, just hope your loved one reads ad circulars. They might check out the specials and find your card. In the meantime that drenched card is dry enough to read the return address. Now I’ve got to make sure they get a Valentine on time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC 20500.