USPS, building off popular licensing deals, branches out into stamp NFTs

The Postal Service, following several high-profile partnerships with apparel companies, is ramping up its licensing deals and expanding into the emerging fad of...

The Postal Service, following several high-profile partnerships with apparel companies, is ramping up its licensing deals and expanding into the emerging fad of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).

USPS Licensing Manager Amity Kirby said 2021 marked a “phenomenal year” for USPS licensing, and that the agency plans to launch about four-to-five licensing deals later this year, which will go beyond apparel.

The agency last November partnered with the New Zealand-based NFT platform VeVe to offer four images of its Day of the Dead-inspired “Forever” stamps as limited-edition NFTs.

Kirby said the images sold out in less than a second.

“The NFT market has really exploded and is very popular,” Kirby said on Tuesday’s episode of the agency’s recently launched podcast, “Mailin’ It!”

Doubling down, USPS offered a second round of NFTs, based on images of its Santa-themed “A Visit from St. Nick” stamps on Dec. 24.

“This is a way for people to collect digital stamp art. It’s not a stamp, it’s the art, and it’s put into this NFT platform format. We’re just like, ‘Let’s go for it. Worst case scenario, we put it out and nobody buys it.’”

USPS has a long history of licensing its brand to companies, but this business reached an inflection point in 2019, when it inked a collaboration deal with the clothing retailer Forever 21.

As part of this deal, the clothing retailer sold USPS-branded hoodies, jackets and a “Priority”-labeled tube top.

“Forever 21 kind of kicked everything off for the modern program, and we’ve kind of just been building on that,” Kirby said.

USPS most recently launched a collaboration with Vans to sell branded sneakers and apparel. Kirby said a USPS-branded Vans high-top sneaker sold out within hours on the first day of sales.

A collaboration can take anywhere from 12-to-18 months to go from the agreement to actually selling the product. Kirby said at this point, the agency is “probably doing an apparel collaboration once a year.”

Kirby said USPS pitches brands on possible collaborations, and also receives pitches about potential opportunities from companies.

“They come to us directly. You know, they say, ‘Hey, I saw what you did with Vans, and we’re really interested in working with you,'” she said.

While USPS is branching out with its licensing opportunities, the agency remains protective of its brand and image. Kirby said USPS said looks for partners who can put the agency in a positive light and avoids potentially “controversial” partners.

“Hopefully, we try and stay away from political stances or causes, just given the nature of who we are. It’s really about putting out our brand in new and different ways and surprising people,” Kirby said.

USPS previously relied on trade shows, industry newsletters and press releases to help spread the word out to prospective licensees. In recent years, however, the agency has been its partnership get much more attention through social media.

“Obviously, social media and the internet and everything else has given everybody a platform and an opportunity to expand … It’s easier to promote, bring awareness and tell people, ‘Hey, look at this, what we’re doing. This is really cool,’” Kirby said.

While USPS is finding its moment among popular brands, Kirby said its current licensing deals are a significant departure from how the agency had previously marketed itself.

The USPS brand, she said, can be a “hard sell” to companies looking for character-driven brands, but has found a successful niche.

“We felt it was a tremendous opportunity to do something completely different, show people that you can do fun and clever and creative things with us,” Kirby said.

Beyond seeking additional revenue streams as a self-funded agency, USPS is able to preserve its copyright and trademark claims to older and retro designs by licensing those images for new products.

“If we were to completely stop using it, and it went dormant, there are copyright and trademark issues, where somebody else could come in and take up that mark, because they think it’s dormant and hasn’t been used,” Kirby said. “So licensing is a good driver for this organization, for the legal department to protect these old logos and these old marks, because we’re using them in new and different ways.”

As it turns out, the retro-designs just happen to be the designs that have the most cachet for clothing brands.

“We have a lot more leeway with that logo because it’s not our official logo anymore, so we can distress him, we can do different elements of design with him, and people love that logo. They love the vintage,” Kirby said.

USPS is also expanding into toys and games. The agency last year launched a deal with the toy manufacturer Kid Trax to create a ride-on USPS delivery truck, with a suggested retail price of $269.

The agency also sells costume USPS uniforms for children and dogs.

“That’s the audience you want to get now. You want to get them when they’re young and hopefully, they stay with you through their life,” Kirby said.

USPS, as an independent agency, is in a different position for merchandising opportunities than other federal agencies like NASA, which does not offer licensing or exclusivity agreements with companies looking to use its ubiquitous logos.

“Companies interested in producing NASA-related merchandise have equal access to NASA information,” the agency states on its website for regulations for merchandising requests.

NASA, however, does enforce certain rules around the usage of its brand. It, for example, does not permit usage of its logo for categories of products that include alcohol, food, cosmetics, tobacco, underwear and technology.

And on one important point, NASA parts ways with USPS on logo usage.

“NASA is not approving any merchandising applications involving Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), as they are not consistent with the categories of products the Agency is approved to merchandise,” the agency states.

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