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Addressing What Matters: I'm looking for the generic Tylenol

  • 1.  Addressing What Matters: I'm looking for the generic Tylenol

    Posted 11-01-2023 01:00
    ZIP Code™ National Area Map from USPS – Clearly Excel had not been invented when they decide to have ZIP Code start with Zero.

    When moving to the US from the UK, one of the cultural differences I first noticed was the American predilection for branding everything.  The title of this post was inspired by an experience I had just 2 weeks after moving to the country when in a Walgreens (notice I branded a drug store), an elderly lady shouted to at one of the assistants "I'm looking for generic Tylenol".  Now for my non-American friends out there, Tylenol is acetaminophen which is known by the entire rest of the world as Paracetamol! (Notice a pattern there?)

    The second time I understood this 'need to brand' was a week later when I did some research on the ZIP Code™ [notice the TM there - branding].  Two things are striking about the branding of the ZIP Code, first, it's a backronym (an acronym deliberately formed from a phrase) for "Zone Improvement Plan" and second it's the only postal code system in the world that doesn't use the word "post" or local-language equivalent in its brand.

    Despite this branding craziness, the ZIP Code was one of the first postal code systems in the world.  Postal codes were of course pioneered in London (notice my smug tone), but the first nationally implemented system was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1932.  Then came Germany (1941), Singapore (1950), the United Kingdom (1959), and a generational 31 years after Ukraine,  the United States launched the ZIP Code™ system in 1963.

    Now despite all appearances, the USPS didn't employ a random number generator on one of it's mainframes to come up with the ZIP Code.  It is in fact reasonably sophisticated.  The 5 digit ZIP Code is:


    Then the second part of the ZIP Code, introduced in 1983, the part that no one can remember but is essential for obtaining a discount on the mailing costs, is known as the ZIP+4.

    Notice how granular the ZIP Code gets – but to go into detail there, would require another post!

    The USPS went to extraordinary lengths to brand the ZIP Code, using a character called Mr. ZIP and recruiting a kitsch six-member singing quarter known as the "The Swinging Six".  You can see the USPS extended 15-minute launch video here – enjoy.

    Mike Ashmore
    Senior Director Product Management
    Precisely Software Inc.