The Post Office Department was not entirely alone in its promotion of ZIP Code. Though the Department developed the promotional campaign and orchestrated it independently for a number of years, the campaign received assistance from the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.(1) AT&T distributed its own information kits containing press releases and Mr. Zip ads similar to those distributed to local post offices to its own company offices. One press release explains the telephone company’s cooperation with the POD in the promotion of ZIP Code and refers to Mr. Zip as a “bright-eyed, dashing cartoon character.” The press release also states that the ZIP Code campaign would help draw attention to the phone book’s yellow pages, where postal zone maps could be found.(2)
AT&T placed Mr. Zip cutouts in their own local office windows and advertised ZIP Code use on the side of its telephone service trucks. The “Mr. Zip message” was displayed on the side of 500 trucks in the D.C. metro area alone.(3) Although AT&T’s involvement in the ZIP Code campaign tapered off after the first few years of the promotion, the company’s use of Mr. Zip helped make him more recognizable to the American public.
Despite its hard work, by 1965 the Post Office Department found itself struggling to achieve nationwide use of ZIP Code. At the same time, the annual volume of mail continued to increase, placing an ever-growing burden upon postal workers across the country. In response, Postmaster General Lawrence O’Brien issued a statement in which he asked for support from local postmasters of a new public information program. This new campaign would be developed and run by the Advertising Council, an organization that formed in 1941 to produce public service advertising and promote American policies and enterprise at home and abroad.(4)
O’Brien stated that the need for Ad Council intervention was “urgent,” because only half of letters mailed by individuals were at that time carried ZIP Codes. Using the terminology of the time, O’Brien referred to the difference between the ZIP Code compliant and non-users as the “Zip Gap.” The Postmaster General explained that the Department was forced to continue operating the pre-ZIP Code system of mail sorting while also using ZIP Code-readable machinery. Operating both systems cancelled out any gains. Estimates showed that ZIP Code had the potential to save the POD millions of dollars and machines would be able to read coded letters at a rate of 36,000 per hour.(5) O’Brien cited a survey which revealed that most people who were not using ZIP Codes were either unaware of their importance in moving the mail, or did not know how to find the codes that they needed.(6) It had become clear that the small staff of Post Office Department employees working on the campaign could not reach a large enough audience to close the “ZIP Gap.” The Department hoped that the Advertising Council would be able to help close the “ZIP Gap.” First the POD had to lobby for government approval for the Ad Council’s help and related expenses.(7)
The Advertising Council asked the ad agency Wunderman, Ricotta and Kline (WR&K) to volunteer the creative and design work needed for promotions. WR&K agreed, and their work was supplemented with $18 million worth of media assistance from the Ad Council. Beginning in 1965-1966, WR&K and the Ad Council produced a number of advertisements for placement in magazines, newspapers, in bus stops and around post offices, in addition to broadcast media promotions.(8)