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Census preparing to
blanket country with $300 million campaign
By Elizabeth McBride
AdAge.com (September 28, 2009) The U.S. Census Bureau is preparing to roll out
what is likely the largest advertising campaign in U.S. government
history, a $300 million effort to motivate Americans to take part in the
The 2010 campaign, which begins in January and will last through the
summer, includes $140 million worth of paid media, a website, PR, events
and materials to promote the Census through more than 100,000 partners
that range from storefront churches to Target Corp.
The Constitution requires a census every 10 years. Late next spring,
about 1.1 million Census workers will take to the street to identify
people who didn't fill out their forms -- the very people the government
hopes to reach, though they are also the hardest to reach with
This is the second time the Bureau has developed a paid ad campaign, and
the last one was successful: The 2000 Census campaign, by WPP's Y&R,
reversed the post-war trend of lower participation rates. The data
gathered 10 years ago showed that Hispanics had grown to be the largest
ethnic group in the United States -- and affirmed the importance of
minorities to American companies.
In September 2007, Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB, New York, won
the 2010 contract after an 18-month process in which more than 100
agencies showed interest.
Big net The campaign is a chance for an agency to be involved in something
beyond the mere commercial, said Jeff Tarakajian, DraftFCB exec VP. It's
also an opportunity to stretch an agency's targeting strategies.
"Typically, when we do a campaign, we are discovering the broad-enough
target audience," said Mr. Tarakajian. "In this case, everyone is the
More than $400 billion in federal funds is allocated in part based on
Census data, and congressional districts are based on the figures.
Further, Census data are used by marketers and agencies alike in their
attempts to shape strategy, direct dollars and target specific
DraftFCB's campaign notes well the lessons of the 2000 Census. The
campaign uses ethnic identity as one wedge to motivate people to fill
out this year's form.
DraftFCB has tapped 11 subcontractors, most of them agencies that
specialize in targeting particular ethnicities. "Materials will be
distributed in 28 languages," said Raul Cisneros, chief of the Census
Bureau's 2010 publicity office. Material is being designed specifically
for Russian immigrants, Arabic language speakers and American Indians,
to name a few.
In addition to using ethnicity and geography to target advertising,
DraftFCB appended the Census database of participants in 2000 to a
market-research database to develop a group of five different mind-sets:
The Leading Edge, The Head Nodders, The Insulated, The Unacquainted and
The Cynical Fifth.
Within each audience, DraftFCB identified the mindsets that were most
prevalent and critical, and is using that knowledge to shape the
The overall message will emphasize the benefits of participation --
better roads, better schools, better hospitals -- with a tagline of
"It's in our hands."
Yet the message is subtly different in the material aimed at the
approximately 4.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, and 1.5
million Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
"When you think about it, we're the only ones who were conquered," said
Michael Gray of G&G Advertising, a Billings, Mont., firm that is
responsible for reaching those populations. "We have this huge mistrust
of the government."
G&G's language deliberately doesn't promise anything, because that might
be seen as overpromising, Mr. Gray said. "We talk about the fact that by
participating you may help bring better roads and schools." Images of
Census rolls from the early 1900s, a time in which American Indians were
categorized as "Uncivilized Citizens," may help inspire pride in the
audience, which may in turn motivate them to fill in lines for name and
The money to target groups at such a minute level is actually an
unexpected luxury. The 2010 campaign got a big boost from the stimulus
package, which allocated $150 million and likely pushed the campaign to
the top of the list of biggest government ad outlays.
"It's certainly the largest in recent times," said Evan Tracey,
president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a subsidiary of TNS.
However, he added that wartime campaigns in the 1940s, adjusted for
inflation, might rival it.
DraftFCB's approach of designing messages around ethnic groups may spark
controversy. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota, has
already said that she won't fill out the questions on the form dealing
with ethnicity -- for fear, she said, that the government will misuse
the information. Some immigrants' rights advocates have suggested to
immigrants that not participating would put pressure on the local and
state governments that depend on rising population counts for more
One particularly controversial area is likely to be the issue of
counting illegal immigrants. So DraftFCB has come up with messages that
offer reassurance that their information will not be shared with other
government agencies. "Confidentiality is a key message," Mr. Cisneros
The Census Bureau has established a goal of 64% of Americans filling out
their forms -- that's three percentage points lower than in 2000. The
lower goal reflects the reality of a fragmented media landscape and a
more disaffected population, Mr. Tarakajian said. "Ten years ago, we
were consumed by Monica Lewinsky," he said. "Think of what we've been
through since then."