Not Coming Soon to a TV Near You: FSI: Pittsburgh


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Here’s a whole new meaning of FSI, a newspaper-biz abbreviation of “Free-Standing Insert” (and not a CSI spin-off meaning “Forensic Scene Investigation”). FSIs are those coupon collections you find tucked into your Sunday paper, mass broadcast to you and most of the county you live in, with coupons for dog food on the page facing special deals on multi-blade razors (hint: dogs generally don’t shave).

The Postal Service has just announced another sort of free-standing insert–actually, product samples freely standing next to each other in a box mailed to consumers. In a pilot with limited national distribution (and with greater concentration in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), folks within a larger consumer segment known as “Has a Mailbox” may receive an official co-branded “Samples Showcase,” which the USPS describes as “a box of assorted beauty, health and snack food items from multiple consumer packaged goods companies.”

From the USPS news release:
Eighty-one percent of consumers will buy a product after they receive a free sample, and most prefer to sample products at home, according to the Opinion Research Corp. This is the idea behind the marketing strategy of a samples co-op box that the U.S. Postal Service plans to market test early next month. . . .
The boxes will be branded with the Postal Service logo and include the tagline, “A selection of free product samples.”

Another strategy behind the pilot test is making sure that direct mail is the sampling method of choice. The co-op box concept, which allows candy bars to be marketed with skin lotions, for example, is expected to make direct mail sampling more attractive because it allows multiple manufacturers to share in the marketing and postage costs of the program.

Inventive, I admit–and the initiative certainly leverages the primary utility of the USPS. In fact, operating costs (and hopefully profit–”millions” is the potential, says the USPS) are funded from selling postage, products and services (and not from tax money). But once again, I intone: “dogs generally don’t shave.” And I’m not sure that those folks snapping up candy bars are going to be more or less inclined to use skin cream.

The eventual genius of this program will come if and possibly when CPGs, likely in conjunction with grocery and pharma loyalty programs and other data sources, can work with the USPS to vary what’s in that “selection of free product samples” according to household. As it stands now, this is physical mass marketing, a bit on the un-green side (not much calling for whole tubes of skin cream, no matter how small, in my household, so garbage can, here I come). On the other hand, samples are indeed a powerful marketing tool, and I personally love them–when they’re right for me. Now let’s see if the parties involved in this pilot can marry their individual strengths to deliver the right products to the most receptive households.

Bill Brohaugh
As managing editor, Bill Brohaugh is responsible for the day-to-day management and editorial for the COLLOQUY magazine and, the most comprehensive loyalty marketing web site in the world. In addition to writing many of the feature articles, Bill develops the editorial calendar, hires and manages outside writers and researchers and oversees print and online production. He also contributes to COLLOQUY's weekly email Market Alert and the COLLOQUYTalk series of white papers.


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