WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The U.S. Census Bureau kicks off an unprecedented $340 million effort on NBC's Golden Globe Awards with the first in a series of five Christopher Guest-directed spots about a director trying to take a snapshot of America.
Ed Begley Jr. plays to the usual Guest crew, including Jennifer Coolidge as a wardrobe lady who asks for left-handed scissors to complete the daunting task of costuming every American.
The extent and breadth of the Census campaign, which some experts say is probably the largest short-term government advertising effort ever, means Americans will be inundated over the next two months with ads to build awareness of the Census. Just less than half of the $140 million advertising budget will be spent trying to reach about 84% of the population, or the "diverse mass" segment -- the busy group likely to be drawn by Mr. Guest's fast-paced comedy. Mr. Guest is the director of quirky cult parodies "Waiting for Guffman" and "A Mighty Wind," among others.
"This has to be the glue that holds everything together," said Gary Resch, group creative director for DraftFCB, the campaign's agency.
The "snapshot" idea tested well in focus groups, he said. The first spot breaks on "The 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards" telecast on NBC on Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. EST.
Along with the five Guest spots, the campaign also includes five animated ads emphasizing how simple the 2010 form is (10 questions, 10 minutes); a music video-style commercial aimed at people younger than 28 who have never participated in a Census; and public service announcements featuring celebrities ranging from Nascar drivers to Olympic athletes.
The message includes the idea that taking part helps win dollars for individual communities. About $400 billion in federal money is allocated based on the results of the Census.
After the forms are mailed in mid-March, the second "motivation" phase begins and lasts for about a month. The campaign shifts to spots that emphasize "We can't move forward till you mail it back." That's followed in May and June by the "non-response follow-up" phase, centered on the message "Open the doors to the Census, and the Census will open doors for you."
The Census has come under some criticism for the size of the campaign, but Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said that for every 1% of the population persuaded to return the forms by mail, the Census saves $85 million it would have spent sending workers door-to-door.
"It's just a business decision," he says.
All four networks will get a piece of the campaign. The Census bought a Super Bowl ad (another installment in the Christopher Guest yarn) as well as two pre-game mentions by sportscaster James Brown -- for about $2.5 million, according to DraftFCB. The Interpublic Group of Cos. agency is working with 11 smaller, mostly ethnic ad agencies in an attempt to persuade every person in the U.S. and Puerto Rico to return the forms.
Almost $4 million, for instance, will be spent to reach the American Indian/Alaska Native population. One of the print advertisements for that subgroup features a lone Alaskan Native standing in an icy landscape, with the tagline "If I don't speak for myself, who will?"
DraftFCB also created the Census 2010 website, which can be viewed in 59 languages in addition to English, and includes a directors' blog, social media connections and a video marquee with 24 video profiles created by Jason Kohn, who won a best documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007. The profiles are of people in Washington, Chicago, Austin, Portland, Ore., and Miami, which have high concentrations of people known to be hard to count.
The profiles aim to authentically represent a wide cast of Americans, going along with the "trusted voices" idea that animates the campaign. One taxidermist from Texas talks about how he might not fill out the form because of his suspicions about the government -- but, when handed the one-page form, which does not include questions about income level, he changes his mind.
"Yeah, I'd fill that out," he says.
In a sign of the role that social networking may play in the campaign, the PSA featuring Nascar driver Greg Biffle is getting a preview on YouTube. Neighbors on the cul de sac where the commercial was shot filmed the scene, and posted it.
"A lot of this content will have a second life online," said Mr. Resch.