Everything you didn’t know you need to know about the Postal Service’s new commercial, Save the Post Office, Steve Hutkins.
Last week the USPS Link had an article — titled “Get a ‘Move’ on” — announcing the Postal Service’s new TV commercial. The commercial is called “Orchestrated Delivery,” and its theme is “We’re reinventing our network” — a reference to the way thousands of letter carriers across the country will soon be relocated from post offices to large Sorting & Delivery Centers, which are being rolled out at this very moment in selected locations.
This promises to be one of the most significant transformations of the postal system in decades, and the Postal Service wants the country to welcome the changes.
The TV spot is fast paced and packs in a lot in just thirty seconds, so here’s a rundown of the sequence of shots. (Thanks, by the way, to ecommerce bytes for calling attention to the ad.)
The spot opens with the sound of postal vehicles revving up in a “start your engines” moment. Truck headlights go on — it’s dark outside — and there’s a quick glimpse of a fuel gauge — in this case, the remaining-charge indicator for an electric vehicle.
A line of two dozen postal delivery trucks at a loading dock is being directed by a postal worker waving traffic control wands, like the marshallers who direct planes at the airport. Or like a conductor leading an orchestra — the title of the spot is “Orchestrated Delivery.”
The trucks depart the facility at the same time, synchronized, a choreographed dance. Once out on the highway, with no other vehicles in sight, one of the trucks transforms by a jump cut from traditional LLV (in great shape for over 30 years old) into a new electric vehicle like those we will eventually see on the road.
Back in the facility, letters fly through a sorting machine, packages move along a conveyor belt, and a forklift operator deftly navigates the aisles, utilizing the forklift tracking system to manage the movement of parcels and mail.
Outside the facility, a letter carrier uses her hand-held scanner and delivers priority boxes to a small business, someone checks the “informed delivery” app on their phone, a hand uses a computer mouse to buy postage and affix a label to a package, a young girl slides across the floor as her mother receives a package, an auto mechanic named Molly cuts opens a package probably containing a spare part, a pharmacist puts medications in a box, a carrier hands off a package to a customer.
Back to the opening scene, trucks depart the facility just as the first light of dawn appears on the horizon. It’s as if it’s the next day, another day in the life of the Postal Service. The USPS logo and “Delivering for America” scroll up from behind the mountains in the distance, rising with the sun.
The narration for the commercial is short and to the point:
“We’re reinventing our network. Fast. Reliable. Perfectly orchestrated.”
The reinvention of the network is about the new Sorting & Delivery Centers that will consolidate carriers from their local post office. That’s why the ad begins and ends with the dramatic early-morning scene of delivery trucks leaving a big processing facility.
The implementation of the new network began with the S&DC in Athens, Georgia, in November, and continued with five more S&DCs in February. Nine more will open in June. During this first phase, fifteen S&DCs will consolidate over 600 routes — about 800 carriers — from 65 post offices (as discussed in this post). The plan calls for several hundred S&DCs, which will encompass most current processing facilities and many new leased properties as well, consolidating carrier operations from thousands of post offices.
The Postal Service has repeatedly claimed the plan will not affect post offices, but that’s for now. Eventually some post offices will close, like when it’s time to renew the lease, as discussed in this post.
In the meantime, customers will be impacted in many ways. Carrier routes could change, so customers may get a new letter carrier unfamiliar with the neighborhood, and at the post office customers may not see clerks they’ve gotten to know over the years. Lines at the post office could get longer, which happened in Watkinsville, Georgia, when its carriers were relocated to the Athens S&DC, and it’s already happening in College Station, Texas, which lost its carriers last week to the new Bryan S&DC. (The Postal Service says it’s a staffing problem and the lines have nothing to do with the new S&DC.) Picking up undelivered mail could also become a problem — one customer was sent back and forth between College Station and Bryan and had difficult getting through to anyone on the phone. (According to a statement from the Postal Service, “There is no connection between delivery issues and the new Bryan facility.”)
Regarding “fast and reliable,” these are not just buzzwords for an ad. They are loaded terms. In the world of stakeholders like big mailers and the Postal Regulatory Commission, “speed” and “reliability” are discussed and debated all the time. The Postal Service conducts surveys to learn how customers feel about these two factors, USPS service performance reports show what percent of the mail was delivered on time — a key metric for reliability — and when the Postal Service told the Commission last year why it wanted to relax service standards, it explained that this would help improve reliability, which, it said, customers value even more than speed.
Finally, to convey how the reinvented network is being “perfectly orchestrated,” the commercial shows the employee conducting the postal trucks and the smooth flow of packages from conveyer belt to customers. The phrase also suggests that in order to perform perfectly, the postal orchestra needs an experienced, skillful, and forceful conductor — like a Maestro DeJoy.
The song, as the USPS Link article puts it, is “a catchy, familiar tune.” Those who are familiar with it probably know it from the computer-animated comedy Madagascar, about NYC zoo animals who take a trip to Africa where they encounter a wild dance party led by King Julien the squirrel, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who does a relatively cleaned-up rendition of the song.
The Postal Service would probably prefer if the song did not call to mind the dance party in the original Reel to Reel music video, with its gyrating bodies and sexually-charged lyrics. Not exactly G-rated material.
The “move it” of the music is reflected in the action of the commercial, with almost every shot showing an object or person in motion, going left to right, always forward, never backward. Like the Postal Service.
The Link article says the commercial “stars the organization’s network of vehicles, facilities and employees.”
A behind-the-scenes featurette that came out with the spot introduces us to the employees who star in the show. It’s called “USPS – Behind the Scenes, 2023 ‘Perfectly Orchestrated’ Ad Campaign.”
The featurette showcases seven postal employees, three of whom appear in the commercial. It’s not clear if the others were left on the cutting room floor or if they will be appearing in future ads.
The USPS Facebook page with the featurette says, “Our new commercial takes well-orchestrated to a new level. But there’s a lot of instrumental scenes that didn’t make the final cut.” That could mean the 30-second spot is all there is and all we’ll see of the seven employees, aside from meeting them in the featurette.
But the featurette also has the USPS Vice President of Marketing referring to “this series of spots,” which would indicate that there are more ads to come. Let’s hope that’s the case. Five of the employees were flown out to L.A. to participate in the shoot from quite a distance — Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania; Port Washington, New York; Port St Lucie, Florida; Athens, West Virginia; and Eugene, Oregon.
In the featurette, the Marketing VP explains that USPS ads usually feature letter carriers but this time around they wanted to use a variety of employees “because it’s taking all of our employees to experience the network changes.” The featurette introduces us to two postmasters (one of whom directs traffic at the beginning and end of the commercial), a forklift operator (she really works in the facility), a city carrier (who delivers the package in the commercial), a mail handler, a PSE, and a logistics director.
It makes sense to include more than just carriers in the commercial. The new delivery network won’t just affect carriers who get relocated to an S&DC. It will also impact clerks and postmasters who work at post offices that lose their carriers and employees in plants that get consolidated.
The postal employees in the ad represent the broad diversity of the postal workforce, which is at it should be. As a USPS press release reminded us earlier this week, “The Postal Service workforce is the most diverse in the nation!”
Speaking about the employees in the featurette, the Marketing VP says, “We’re actually hearing them, hearing their voice, talking about the changes they’re living and what they’re experiencing.” She can’t be talking about the ad — no one speaks in it — and in the featurette the employees talk about the experience of participating in the making of the commercial, not about what they’re living at the workplace. Hopefully we’ll hear more from them in future spots in the campaign. They clearly love working at the Postal Service.
The commercial takes place at what appears to be a real postal facility, but the behind-the-scenes featurette says only that it’s in Los Angeles without saying where. The video, however, shows the entrance to the facility, which makes identification possible.
Turns out it’s the Santa Clarita P&DC on Franklin Parkway in Santa Clarita, California, in northwestern Los Angeles County.
The Postal Service has owned this facility since 1994. It’s huge, with 650,000 square feet, and it includes the mail processing operation, a vehicle maintenance operation, administrative offices, and the Castaic Branch post office,
The facility employs something on the order of a thousand employees — mail handlers, mail processing clerks, equipment operators, custodians, maintenance specialists and mechanics, electronic technicians, and so on. You can see more of the operations at the Santa Clarita P&DC in this virtual tour.
While the TV spot shows delivery vehicles departing the truck bays at the rear of the facility, in real life large contractor-operated trucks come and go, transporting mail to and from other processing facilities and delivery units at post offices. The P&DC serves 300 delivery units at post offices in southern California.
A future S&DC?
The commercial uses the Santa Clarita P&DC as a set to introduce the new S&DC network, but the facility could end up being a real S&DC.
The Postal Service is currently consolidating and relocating processing operations throughout the country. All of the S&DCs going into operation this year are at P&DCs that have been underutilized since some of their operations were consolidated elsewhere. Huge Regional Distribution Centers are being built in places like Atlanta, Charlotte, and Indianapolis (as discussed here). Large Network Distribution Centers (formerly bulk mail centers) are being repurposed to include S&DCs, as discussed in this previous post. These changes are supposed to streamline the processing network but they are also intended to help make space for S&DCs.
If the Santa Clarita facility were to house an S&DC, it could consolidate carrier operations from about a dozen post offices that are within a 30-minute drive — the maximum “reach” between a S&DC and “spoke” post office. These offices encompass about 500 routes, including 150 for the city of Santa Clarita, some of which may already be based at the Castaic Branch at the P&DC location (most of them probably work out of the Main Post Office).
The average distance from the Santa Clarita P&DC to these post offices is about 18 miles and a 22-minute drive — which is about how much longer the routes would get if they start at the S&DC instead of the post office. That estimate of driving times is for ideal conditions. With LA traffic, the average drive time could obviously be much longer.
If two or three hundred routes were consolidated to a Santa Clarita S&DC from the area’s post offices, the additional miles and driving time would significantly increase costs for transportation and labor (as discussed in this post). These additional costs would be offset by eliminating some clerk jobs at post offices — fewer are necessary when they don’t have to provide support labor for the carriers — and closing some of the offices completely.
If the Santa Clarita P&DC does become an S&DC, it will definitely be getting some of the new charging stations the Postal Service is buying. Earlier this week, the Postal Service announced that it was purchasing 9,250 electric vans and 14,000 charge stations, some of which, says the USPS, will be installed at S&DCs. California is planning to implement new Clean Fleets Regulations, so it could be one of the first states to see postal EVs. Those charging stations, by the way, are being paid for not by the Postal Service but by taxpayers via $1.7 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act.
The song “I like to move it” has also been used in video games and other commercials, like one for Voost Vitamins, which changes the lyrics to “I like to Voost it.”
In 2017 the Santa Clarita P&DC was the subject of an OIG audit entitled “Timeliness of Mail Processing at the Santa Clarita, CA, Processing and Distribution Center,“ (NO-AR-17-007). The IG found “mail was delayed because the Santa Clarita P&DC did not have enough staff to operate mail processing machines and delivery unit employees did not follow PARS mail preparation procedures.”
The P&DC was also one of several facilities that the OIG looked at in its audit of “Processing Readiness of Election and Political Mail During the 2020 General Elections’ (20-225-R20).
Most of the comments about the new commercial that have been posted so far on Twitter ignore the commercial itself and instead complain about delayed mail and packages and other problems, e.g., “While wasting taxpayer money on these useless commercials your tracking service is DOWN!” The Facebook comments are similar: “Why are you wasting money on commercials? Do people not know about the post office?!?” Comments on the Postal Service’s Youtube for the commercial are turned off.
(To learn more about the reinvention of the delivery network, visit the S&DC Dashboard.)