By Dean Rieck, direct mail copywriter
Mention the United States Postal Service® in a group of direct marketers and you’ll get a half-hour rant on the flaws and foibles of the system. Grumbling about slow delivery. Groaning about poor management. Griping about rising postal rates.
The USPS® certainly has its problems. But do they really deserve this venom?
Consider a bizarre, but revealing study, published in the Annals of Improbable Research (Volume 6, Issue 4). Researchers wanted to test the delivery limits of the USPS. So, they mailed a bunch of outlandish items to see what would happen. Here are a few of the results:
Twenty-dollar bill. Sealed in clear plastic to tempt the greedy. Delivered untouched in 4 days.
Pair of expensive tennis shoes. Unwrapped. Simply strapped together with duct tape. Delivered in 7 days with laces neatly and tightly knotted.
Rose. No box. No wrapping. Just a rose with postage and address card tied to the stem. Beat up, but delivered in 3 days with the rosebud intact.
Screaming toy. A monkey-in-the-box addressed in big letters to LITTLE JOHNNIE. Upon shaking, the toy shouted, “Let me out of here! Help! Let me out of here!” Delivered in 6 days.
Fresh green coconut. No wrapping. Just addressed, stamped, and dropped in the mail from Hawaii. Delivered in 10 days.
Box of sand. Mailed in transparent plastic box. Opened, inspected, taped shut, and delivered in 7 days.
Brick. Wrapped in plain brown paper. Pulverized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, but all pieces delivered in a plastic bag in 16 days.
Large wheel of rancid cheese. Mailed in a cardboard box through which the cheese oozed and emitted a truly noxious odor. Box placed in plastic bag and delivered in 8 days.
Of course, not all the mailed items were delivered. An unwrapped hammer never arrived. A bottle of unopened spring water dropped into a pickup box was confiscated and consumed by a postal carrier as he worked his route. A can of soup, a lemon, and a bald tire are a few of the other things that didn’t make the journey.
My favorite test involved a helium balloon. The researcher wrote the address directly on the balloon with magic marker. No postage affixed. When mailing the balloon at a postal station, the researcher “argued strongly that he should be charged a negative postage and refunded the postal fees, because the transport airplane would actually be lighter as a result of [the] postal item.” With a smile, the postal worker refused to accept it.
Out of 28 items, the USPS delivered 18. That’s a delivery rate of 64 percent. Considering the odd nature of most of the items, these numbers are astonishing. Compare this to a zero percent delivery rate cited by the study for countries such as Puru, Turkey and Egypt, and you can’t help but conclude that we’ve got it pretty good here in the United States.
When designing the New York General Post Office at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street, William Mitchell Kendall, an architect with the firm McKim, Mead & White, supplied an inspirational inscription that is familiar to every American:
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
It’s not an official motto. But, it may as well be. Because, despite all our grumbling, groaning, and griping, the United States Postal Service remains one of the most personal and reliable means of delivering things from one place to another at a reasonable cost.
“Personal” is the key word here. The USPS employs hundreds of thousands of people. They pick up mail, transport it, and deliver it to any address you choose. All in a few days for a few cents each. A human being handles every piece of mail at some point along its journey. And this personal touch makes all the difference.
It’s why mail continues to be such an effective medium. It’s why no new technology can ever fully replace it. It’s why red roses and rancid cheese can get delivered even when they break all the rules.
The next time you hear people carping, remind them that the men and women of the USPS are our partners…and amazingly cooperative partners at that. They deserve our respect, our support, and our thanks.
But please don’t mail cheese. That’s just nasty.
If you want a real laugh, read the full report on these weird postal experiments with pictures of some of the mailed items.