U.S. Census unveils 2020 ad campaign amid digital push
The U.S. Census Bureau unveiled its 2020 ad campaign on Tuesday, with a focus on getting respondents to answer the questionnaire digitally for the first time.
It comes amid concerns that the failed citizenship question and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the current administration will make certain demographics even harder to count than they have already been historically. At stake is $1.5 trillion in federal spending, which will be allocated to the 50 states based on the census. It also determines how many congressional seats each state gets.
The bureau is allocating between $200 million and $250 million to its ad campaign, which when adjusting for inflation is on par with the more than $133 million the bureau spent in 2010, says Kendall Johnson, program manager for the communications directorate, U.S. Census Bureau. The census used paid advertising for the first time in 2000.
Digital advertising will make up 30 percent of the bureau’s media buy, up from 8 percent in 2010, the last time the census was taken. TV spend is now 40 percent, down from 44 percent a decade ago.
The Census Bureau has also decided to sit out of the Super Bowl this year after running ads in both 2000 and 2010.
“It isn’t an efficient spend of taxpayers’ dollars,” says Alex Hughes, census program director at VMLY&R, which is handling the campaign.
In 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau ran a commercial, “Preproduction/Location,” that imagined a production meeting for the entire U.S. census. The 2000 ad provided a slightly absurdist look at school overcrowding, culminating in a class held in the janitor’s closet. The pitch: Respond to the census because there’s federal largesse in it for you.
While the bureau won’t run ads in the Big Game, it is airing commercials in other sports programming, including March Madness, Hughes says.
The shift to digital advertising, Hughes says, will allow the bureau to optimize the marketing in real-time and direct people straight to the online questionnaire.
“Digital allows us to be more nimble,” Johnson says. “If we see certain areas not responding as predicted, we can shift resources to those areas.”
There is also a greater use of hyper-local outdoor media, like at gas stations and bus stops, Johnson says.
The first leg of the campaign, with the tagline, "Shape your future. Start here." debuts on Tuesday, will target hard-to-count multicultural audiences.
Part of the marketing strategy is tapping into trusted voices in communities. These are not necessarily celebrities. In Hawaii, for example, the bureau will feature a well-regarded religious leader. In Richmond, Va. the bureau is highlighting the 2019 National Teacher of the Year; and in Santa Monica, Ca., is tapping a librarian.
The goal, of course, is to raise awareness that the census is coming, make sure people know what it is, how it is conducted and why it is important to their communities, Johnson says.
The second part of the campaign, which will roll out in March, will encourage people to respond, preferably through the internet, and in April the messaging will focus on reminding people to respond before enumerators come knocking on their doors.
Part of the campaign will look to humanize enumerators. “They are friends, they are going to do the right thing, data is secure,” Hughes says.
The bureau is running ads in 13 different languages, down from the 28 languages it featured in its 2010 campaign.