FIRST ADS FOR CENSUS 2000 CARRY A WARNING: COMMERCIALS NOTE HOW PEOPLE CAN LOSE OUT IF THEY DON'T RESPOND

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The U.S. Census Bureau, in the first of its $100 million in paid media advertising for the 2000 census, is trying to confront head-on the problems caused by citizens not filling out their forms.

In a $2 million ad campaign running in three test sites from Y&R Advertising, New York, and four partner agencies tied to various minorities, the Census Bureau is warning about the schools and daycare and treatment centers that communities may be losing if people don't reply. Ads hold up the carrot of new facilities.

Ads target the general population, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native Americans.

`WHERE DOES SCHOOL GO?'

"Where does the school go? Or the firehouse? You tell me," says the narrator of one TV spot from Y&R and J. Curtis & Co., a Montclair, N.J., African-American agency. "You say where it belongs by answering Census 2000."

Commercials end with some variation of the theme, "This is your future. Don't leave it blank." The advertising is running in Columbia, S.C., and 11 nearby rural counties; near the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin; and in Sacramento, Calif.

In 1990, the portion of U.S. citizens who filled out and returned their census forms dropped to 65%, from 75% in 1980.

The Census Bureau also has redesigned its form to make it more friendly and to look less like a piece of direct mail. The hope is these moves will help it avoid the expense of sending census enumerators door-to-door.

The bureau estimates it pays from $2 to $35 per household for census takers to go into communities when forms aren't returned.

OPTING FOR PAID ADS

The bureau last year decided to abandon its traditional Ad Council advertising in favor of the paid ads, because of fears public service announcements wouldn't reach target audiences in sufficient numbers.

In addition to Y&R and Curtis, other agencies working on the effort are Bravo Group, New York, for Hispanic; Mosaica, for Asian advertising; and Gray & Gray Advertising, Albuquerque, N.M., a Native American agency.

"Our media plan is designed to build. The feeling is that people are exposed to all the advertising [both the general market and segmented market] and it is critical it be integrated," said Terry Dukes, senior VP-account managing director at Y&R.

As for the creative pitch: "Many people in this country only perceive the census as counting heads and it is becoming irrelevant to most people, except for the politically astute. We looked at approaching from doing a patriotic duty, but [the benefits] seems more universal," said Darlene Billia, senior VP-account planning director.

SUBHEAD GOES HERE

In the Columbia area, where rural unemployment is an issue, ads are running in The Job Trader as well as local newspapers. In Sacramento, where Hispanic ads are running, the Census Bureau has been able to get local radio remotes in front of public facilities that could be affected by the information.

The results of the test will be analyzed by both Y&R and the Census Bureau in time for the launch of advertising for the 2000 census.

Y&R officials said ads for the census will likely break in January 2000.

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