U.S. Census Bureau Debuts $133 Mil. Push

The U.S. Census Bureau is launching a $133 million campaign next week that urges the American public to participate by completing and sending back the 10-question forms they’ll receive in the mail.

“One of the primary goals for our advertising and outreach campaign is to increase the number of people who mail back their forms when they arrive in March,” said Census Bureau director Robert Groves during a presentation in Washington, D.C., today. “For each percentage point increase in the national mail-back response rate, the Census Bureau saves taxpayers about $80-90 million in costs associated with having to send census takers to non-responding households for in-person interviews.”

Lead agency Draftfcb developed a two-pronged approach in order to raise awareness of the importance of participating in the once-a-decade headcount. One series of TV spots has an educational bent. It employs a straightforward, informational-type pitch that uses graphics to highlight the ease of participation and the positive impact the Census can have on the future of local communities.

One ad, for example, tells viewers that when they take 10 minutes to fill out the questionnaire, they help get their communities what they need for the next 10 years. Another asks, “If we don’t know how many kids there are, how do we know how many classrooms we need?”

The second series of commercials is a humor-driven flight directed by Christopher Guest that stars Ed Begley Jr. as a director who wants to film the entire population of the country. “We’re going to take a snapshot of America,” he tells his crew, as staffers around him ask themselves, “Isn’t that what the Census is doing?” Additional Guest regulars appear, including Jennifer Coolidge and Bob Balaban.

The Guest-directed series will break on the Golden Globe Awards telecast this Sunday and will also appear on the Feb. 7 broadcast of the Super Bowl on CBS.

The four-month campaign, which also includes a national tour, PSAs and an educational program, includes advertising in 28 languages. More than half of the advertising will target minority and ethnic audiences.

The effort will also make extensive use of the Web and social media to promote participation, including efforts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flicker and MySpace.

The Census Bureau used paid advertising for the first time in 2000. Draftfcb was selected as lead creative agency in 2007, and its IPG sibling Initiative handles media. Numerous other shops nationwide handle specialized aspects of the Census campaign.

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