The U.S. Census Bureau’s public education outreach efforts in 2020 for the national decennial census will culminate in the most sophisticated campaign to date—with an approximated price tag of $500 million.
More than 1,000 creative print, radio, tv and digital spots were made for the “Shape your Future. START HERE.” campaign. From today until June 28, it’s estimated this work will reach 99% of households multiple times.
Per Michael C. Cook, chief of the bureau’s public information office, it would take more than six hours to view (and listen to) all of the ads in one sitting.
At a presser today, the bureau showed an 30-second spot called “Everything Counts,” that begins with: “In America, we all count. No matter where we call home, how we worship, and who we love.” The video goes on to explain the basics of the census and why that information is crucial for the government to obtain so that funding for social programs can be appropriately and proportionally allocated.
The bureau has already tweeted a YouTube playlist of 21 of the campaign’s 30- and 60-second spots, most of which are not in English. Each commercial varies in storyline and in casting. A common plot device throughout most of the videos is the usage of a child to speak in their native language to an adult, informing them about the census. Each video is captioned with the spoken language (including those in English). The campaign materials describe all the ways in which people can respond to the census: either online for the first time or by phone in 13 languages or via the traditional paper questionnaire.
Steven D. Dillingham, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, revealed that most of the bureau and partner organizations have been working on this specific national census for at least a decade, stressing the importance of reaching every person in the country to make it a successful, accurate and complete count.
“It’s a once-in-a-decade chance to inform how billions of dollars in funding are allocated for critical public services like hospitals and health care clinics, schools and education programs, roads and bridges, and emergency response for the next 10 years,” Dillingham explained.
The U.S. Census Bureau began reviewing competing agencies for the campaign in 2015. In Aug. 2016, the bureau selected Young & Rubicam Group as its new lead creative agency.
Each of Y&R’s 13 agencies tested the ads in multiple languages across diverse focus groups.
“We learned that in our Hispanic community, children could influence their parents’ decision about responding to the census,” said Duly Fernandez, co-founder and executive director of Culture ONE World. “So we used kids in many of our ads. All our ads also talk about the fact that their responses will not be shared. Their personal information will be safe.”
This is the third decade-long census to include a dedicated advertising and communications operation designed to encourage the public to respond on their own. Dillingham explained that higher self-response rates increase the accuracy of census statistics and save taxpayer money by significantly lowering the follow-up costs of sending census takers to non-responsive households.
The 2020 Census will officially begin on Jan. 21 in Toksook Bay, Alaska, a small fishing village made up of roughly 660 residents where frozen, ice-covered landing strips facilitate access. Census takers use snowmobiles and special planes to knock on doors and spread the word. According to Dillingham, this example demonstrates how strategic and broad advertising can potentially impact the census (especially for those who are historically undercounted).
Advertising will be launched on television, digital platforms, radio and in print starting today, and the media campaign will continue in three phases: the awareness/education phase (Jan. 14–March 12) for immediate awareness and educational outreach, the motivation/participation phase (March 13–May 20) to inspire the public to complete the census questionnaire, and the reminder/nonresponse follow up (May 13–June 28) phase to remind people and support census takers as they go door-to-door to count households that have not yet responded.
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