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28 . 09 . 21

US Post mail gets a vote of confidence

Words by: Print Power
Using the immense power of a simple printed postcard, the United States Postal Service moved an incredible 73 per cent of voters to cast their ballot in the Presidential Election a week early.
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In the run up to the US 2020 election, the pandemic meant that an unprecedented number of voters were expected to cast their ballot via the United States Postal Service. But opinion polls revealed public fears that they wouldn’t be able to handle this influx of mail ballots due to slower than usual mail delivery times. Major delays that were blamed on cuts to both budgets and overtime.

Americans had lost faith in the United States Postal Service’s ability to handle voting by mail. So how could the USPS restore the public’s trust in their seriously dented reputation?

The answer was on a postcard. A simple piece of direct mail that got the US voting public to sit up, take notice and more importantly, take action. And the runaway success of the mail-out only serves to underline the mind-blowing potential that printed direct mail has for consumer reach and engagement.

Answer on a postcard

US ad agency MRM realised they needed a creative that would restore American’s faith in the USPS and the integrity of voting by mail. The opinion polls had also revealed that voters were searching for clear, easy-to-understand information amid the voting ‘noise’. So in response to this, and realising that integrity is built on understanding HOW to do something, they sent a simple, straightforward, non-partisan piece of direct mail to every single American. ‘Democracy by mail’ was an informational and useful postcard that cut through the noise and gave the most important advice of all: how to plan ahead to make sure your vote is counted.

Alongside a checklist to help the voter prepare their ballot in time, the message read: ‘We’re ready to deliver for you. Make sure you’re ready too. Your United States Postal Service’. A URL in English and Spanish took the voter online for further information. And the same, simple call to action ran concurrently in newspaper, digital display and radio ads.

Direct action

The results were seriously impressive. As well as generating 700+ million impressions (376 million paid and 330 million from DM), the campaign provoked nearly 1.5 million visits to the site and there were 740,124 clicks on ‘Find your state election website’.

The campaign inspired positive voter behaviour too. While 73 per cent of voters returned ballots at least one week early1, 88 per cent of voters felt confident their vote was counted1, 98 per cent of mail voters reported no trouble requesting and sending their ballots2, and early voting in 2020 was more than double recent years - with over 65 million ballots cast by mail3. All of which was reflected in subsequent survey results showing improved voter confidence in the USPS’ ability to deliver mail and ballots on time and in a non-partisan manner.


Print as provocateur

But the postcard inspired more than voter action. It also stirred up a political storm. Confounding the paranoia around the neutrality of the government-controlled USPS, and perhaps realising the huge reach of this piece of direct mail, it provoked a furious response among some political figures. Colorado secretary of state Jena Griswold argued that the mailer was misleading as it gave general information, when in fact voting by mail procedures vary from state to state. For example, while the postcard advises voters to request their absentee ballot at least 15 days before Election Day, voters in many states wouldn’t need to as a ballot is sent out automatically via the USPS.

The USPS responded by saying that the postcard was meant to offer guidance on the use of the mail rather than guidance on state election rules. And there is a disclaimer on there that says ‘Rules and dates vary by state, so contact your election board to confirm’, alongside a URL that offers up further links.

But undeterred, so incensed was Griswold that she filed a lawsuit against the USPS, due to what she saw as the postcard’s confusing nature. The USPS settled the case, destroying any remaining postcards they had and agreeing on more consultation on messaging going forward.

Despite the political shadow thrown over the campaign, the extraordinary figures speak for themselves – this was a piece of direct marketing that achieved its goals – restoring voters’ faith in the USPS again to the extent that it led to double the number of absentee ballots being cast than usual.  

Yet again proving the potent power of print marketing.


(Original source: Research, 2MIT Election Lab, 3USA Today.