WASHINGTON, D.C. (AdAge.com) -- 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 2010 Census.
Census at a glanceTOTAL MARKETING BUDGET: $300 million
MEASURED MEDIA SPENDING: $140 million
TARGET: 64% response rate
LEAD AGENCY: DraftFCB
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 advertising.
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.
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 target audience."
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 demographics.
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 material.
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 tribe.
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 federal dollars.
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 said.
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."