Government "Investment" Of the Day

Over the course of Lance Armstrong's career, the US Postal Service paid him over $40 million in sponsorship money (at least according to the radio report I heard this morning).

I don't necessarily begrudge advertising -- the USPS was nominally acting as a business enterprise, and businesses advertise to promote their services.

But I do find this expenditure odd in the extreme for a couple of reasons.

  • First, sponsorship money of this sort generally can only build name recognition.  Paying to name a ballpark "Chase Field" builds name recognition for Chase, but by necessity does not communicate anything else about its services or value proposition.  The same is true for putting one's name on Lance Armstrong's jersey.  Does the US Post Officer really need name recognition?  Are there people wandering around unaware of the US mail?  I could understand advertising such as "this is why our express mail is better than Fedex" or "you should send a real paper thank you note and not just an email to really thank someone."  But name recognition for the USPS?  "Oh, so that is what that funny box in front of my house is...."
  • Second, to the extent one did indeed feel the need to build name recognition, why in the hell would one do it in a sport primarily competed and followed in Europe?  This seems an odd strategy for a service that is essentially limited by statute to US operations.

The only thing I can guess is that someone in the USPS decided, "Hey, everyone hates us.  Let's sponsor someone (preferably in a tangential sport that we could actually afford) who is beloved so some of those positive feelings might transfer to us."   That worked out well, huh?


  1. Chris:

    This just in: Tone deaf government workers miss the mark!

  2. MingoV:

    "... sponsorship money of this sort generally can only build name recognition...."

    That's not true. There is a linkage of characteristics. Hertz, decades ago, used O. J. Simpson in its commercials. Hertz wanted to be linked with OJ's characteristics: fast, gets around obstacles, reliable, and the best in his field.

    The United States Postal Service wanted to be linked with Lance Armstrong's characteristics: best in his field, hard working, tough, always comes out on top, etc.

    Studies have shown the effectiveness of such ads or sponsorships. They work better than celebrity endorsements.

    However, the money was wasted even if the USPS's sponsorship of Armstrong was effective in convincing people that the USPS had good characteristics. The USPS has a monopoly on most mail delivery. Why should the USPS care whether we believe its employees are top-notch and hardworking? When you're the only game in town, you don't need ads.

  3. mesaeconoguy:

    So now that we know the USPS has been blood doping, can we make it cease to exist, and sue it to recover past (fraudulent) claims of efficiency?

  4. Tanuki Man:

    It's not just that. I remember seeing big, maybe 50", flat screen TVs in post offices at a time when such items were costing in the several thousands of dollars. They were being used, as far as I could tell, to run Postal Service ads for the people already in line at the post office. Insane waste.

  5. Duane Gran:

    At the time USPS was making an advertising push for their international parcel service and in particular trying to get more market share in Europe. This changes the perception dramatically about why they sponsored a pro cycling team and raced the major races in Europe. Like most advertising, you can debate 'till the sun goes down whether it was a good value for the money.

  6. LarryGross:

    clearly they were expecting/betting that a US personality would 'win'. No different than Wheaties betting that US athletes might win the Olympics.

    what this shows is that Warren is not a PR guy... and has chosen correctly to not have that as his day job!