In 2020, as it has every decade for 230 years, the federal government is mobilizing an army of workers to count everyone in the country for the U.S. Census. The tally determines everything from the allocation of funds for social services and schooling to the number of members each state gets in the House of Representatives, so an accurate count is a Constitutionally-mandated priority.
But the Trump administration’s failed efforts to add a question to the census about citizenship status has spooked many would-be respondents. Some undocumented immigrants fear the information could be used against them and prompt deportation proceedings, and even legal residents and citizens worry that giving demographic information to census workers could endanger their family members.
A massive ad campaign for the census debuted this week, led by VMLY&R. In the portion of the campaign directed toward Latinos, led by multicultural agency Culture One World, much of the messaging is designed to assuage these fears of government misuse of data. “Your personal information can’t be shared with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] nor with the police. Don’t worry,” says a Latino man in one spot that will roll out in the second phase of the campaign beginning in March, a snippet of which can be seen below.
LUIS: Welcome to the U.S., Juan.
JUAN: Yeah. Thanks!
LUIS: Good to see you!
PEDRO: Well… let’s see. (looking at the menu)
JUAN: Listen… I saw that at home they’re considering filling out the census, but isn’t it dangerous?
LUIS: Not at all! I was just like you ten years ago. I filled it out and look at me, I’m still here.
PEDRO: Your personal information can’t be shared with ICE nor with the police. Don’t worry.
JUAN: Well, that’s good! Right?
According to Carlos Alcazar, co-founder of Culture One World, the spots targeting the Latino population were developed after research showed specific concerns across communities. "They included concerns about privacy and a general distrust in the federal government," he says.
The "Dinner With Friends" spot above, "explicitly, and in a nuanced way, addresses their fears about responding to the census and clarifies their information will not be shared with ICE or law enforcement," adds fellow Culture One World founder Duly Fernandez. "Our main goal is to make it clear that, no matter what your situation, you still count and responding to the Census will benefit you, your family and your community."
The friendly, conversational style of the spot is typical of the campaign, which is meant to make the census feel approachable—like a necessary task that needs to be completed to help the community. Montage spots feature images of extended or multigenerational families of varying ethnicities all taking part. Children explain the simplicity of the undertaking, and elders emphasize that it’s a responsibility that can’t be ignored.
“No matter where you’re from, or your nationality. No matter your immigration status or who you live with, for the U.S. Census, everyone who lives here counts, even those who you wouldn’t think count,” reads the description of one such video (top).
But Latinos aren’t the only community the Census Bureau is worried about reaching. Non-English speakers, recent immigrants and children have been undercounted historically, so campaign content is available in multiple languages and is tailored to specific cultural groups, including spots in Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Polish, Arabic, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese featuring actors in culturally appropriate situations. For example, an Arabic family visits an open-air market, and several generations of Polish-Americans play chess beside photos of the patriarch who first immigrated to the U.S.
And in perhaps the most ambitious spot released so far, Pacific Islanders with roots in multiple nations reprise an inspirational and multilingual version of the Oscar-nominated song “This Is Me” from “the Greatest Showman” soundtrack.