How the U.S. Census Is Reading Your Mind

Why Some Are More Likely Than Others to Respond, and What Would Make Them Participate

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NEW YORK ( -- The upcoming census count will be accompanied by one of the broadest marketing efforts imaginable -- trying not just to reach every person living in the United States with a message, but getting all of them to act on that message.

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"Typically when you're marketing a product ... you market it to the people who are most likely to buy that product. In this situation, we have to market to everyone, whether they are likely to participate or not," said Vita Harris, chief strategy officer at DraftFCB, who is handling the general-market leg of the census effort.

To go that broad, the $300 million-plus effort has to incorporate reams of data, tapping Census 2000 information, lifestyle and media habit data banks and cultural and ethnic studies.

But this year, the U.S. Census Bureau and its ad agency also decided to add an "attitudinal" layer. Although they already had the geographical and demographic data collected from previous polls, what they didn't know were the whys: Why was someone more or less likely to answer the census? And what could marketing do to improve the odds that they would?

So DraftFCB interviewed more than 4,000 people by phone, mobile phone and in-person during the summer of 2008, posing questions in 30 different areas, ranging from how much interviewees knew about the census to what kind of messages would make them participate. It took two months to analyze the data. And what came out was a statistical set of five different mind-sets that are most prevalent about the census.

While keeping in mind that race, ethnicity and demographics are also taken into account, we've pulled out just the mind-sets and queried DraftFCB about who there are, what each one thinks about the census, and how marketing can reach them.

The five types of census attitudes

UNACQUAINTED: The people in this group are "peripheral"; that is, they tend to be on the outside of the community, either transient or living with relatives. They are less likely to speak English as their first language. They've also never heard of the census and, even after a brief description, are still unlikely to fill it out. Social media, which is important to all groups, is especially relevant to the younger 22-to-34-year-olds in this group.

This group needs the most education and information, and one marketing push will, in fact, target their children. The 2010 Census in Schools' "It's About Us" effort, with free educational materials and plans for schools to talk to kids, also serves as a catalyst in Unaquainted homes when children bring home census materials and discuss them with their parents. In-language PSAs directed at this group will explain why the census matters to them.

Media plans for this group include ethnic buys, such as radio and print owned and operated by Native Americans, Arabic TV, sponsorships and/or product placements on TV shows such as George Lopez' new talk show or Tyler Perry's African-American generational family show "House of Payne," and many local buys such as restaurant media in ethnic restaurants. census marketing will be done in 28 languages in 2010, vs. just 14 in 2000, and the website will be available in 59 languages (see story, next page).

This group has a majority of minorities with almost half not born in the U.S. This group has the largest household size of four-or-more people are are most likely to have children in the household. They are the least educated, and have the lowest income (of the mind-sets), and are more likely to be renters than homeowners.

THE CYNICAL FIFTH: This stubborn group of respondents is labeled as "resistant." They claim to know little about the census, but in fact score high on the factual questions about what it does. They are negative about the Census and suspicious about what the collected data is used for. And they are difficult to reach -- not only because they philosophically don't agree with the census, but also because they skew as fairly average people (though slightly more male than the other mind-sets).

Rather than try to argue with them, Ms. Harris said creative messaging for this group will focus on the emotional impact of the Census, such as the common good, survival of the culture and benefits for future generations.

Traditional advertising also doesn't work well for this cynical group, so media planning is being built around connections. For instance, this group has an affinity for Nascar. Instead of buying a TV spot at Nascar events, a driver endorsement, for instance, would be more palpable for the cynical fifth. Athlete endorsements being considered for the Winter Olympics would particularly resonate with this group.

This group defies distinct definition, as they tend to mirror the population. They are more likely to have medium-to-high incomes and be more educated than the other mind-sets.

INSULATED: This group knows about the census, but they're indifferent. They don't believe the census has real meaning for them. There are also a higher percentage of women in the group. Messaging to them will focus on stories about how the census is personally beneficial to them, in areas such as job training, health care and community centers. Trusted voices and advocates in-language and in-culture are important to this group.

Local media is the main media venue for this group, and TV will be used. Local plans include such venues as lunch-truck advertising, migrant-farm-worker radio and partnerships with local radio DJs who can advocate the census to their listeners and encourage them to fill it out.

This group is most likely to be ethnic, with large pockets of 65 and older people, as well as widows. They are less likely to have children, and many don't speak English at home. They also tend to be homeowners with incomes of $25,000 or less and a lower education level with a majority completing high school or less.

HEAD NODDERS: This group, also known as "impressionable," profess to know a lot about the census. However, this group also performed the worst on the 10-15 "true or false" questions about the census, proving they actually know very little. As Ms. Harris said, "They're kind of like that friend that promises to come over and they have every intention of doing so, but then they don't show up. You just can't totally trust what they say."

Because this is the biggest group, it's also the one that affect mass-media scheduling the most. DraftFCB's plan to reach these non-committers is with high impact and high-frequency blast advertising throughout the month of March. Plans include radio sponsorships around census countdowns, outdoor ads with emphasis on transit and high-reminder places, and even gas pump media. This group needs to be reached and reminded over and over, and unusual media placement is meant to help the messages stick.

They are more likely to fall into the two census' "all-around-average" classifications. The first average group is more likely to own their home, live in the suburbs or a rural area, and is 80% white. The second average group is more likely to rent, live in an urban area and is 69% white. Both "all-around-average" groups earn an average annual salary of $45,000.

LEADING EDGE: This is the group every marketer wants. Also called the "committed," these people are informed and positive about the census. They almost don't need to be motivated, because not only are they likely to fill out the form and consider it their duty or privilege, they also have a propensity to encourage others to do the same. To that end, the Census is recruiting Leading Edge types who will act as advocates, whether they are church leaders, local government officials or community leaders. It's not traditional media, but the word-of-mouth generated gratis by these influencers can help motivate all other mind-sets.

As far as a specific media plan, the Leading Edge group won't get one, as they are likely to be captured through one or more of the other mass efforts, like the Olympics or Super Bowl. DraftFCB is interested in both venues, with the possibility of placing traditional commercials, as well as sponsorships and athlete or celebrity endorsements.

This group most closely resembles the census "advantaged homeowners" designation, which means they are most likely to be single families with low mobility, living in the suburbs, have an average salary of $69,000, and are 85% white.

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