The challenge, of course, is to get the general population to see the value and importance of filling out their census forms. How is this accomplished? More importantly, how do you engage Generation Y, the generation that has never directly participated in this process?
As of March 10, the U.S. Census was struggling to reach the audience that it so badly needs to engage. It has fewer than 3,000 Twitter followers and 14,900 friends on Facebook. Are you kidding me? A grilled cheese sandwich with the image of the Virgin Mary has more followers. On top of that, the official U.S. Census website is both aesthetically abysmal and hard to navigate, not to mention that you can't fill out your Census form online.
Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau spent millions of dollars to mail letters to millions of households to let them know that they will be mailed a Census form in the future (thick irony given the announcement that the inefficient U.S. Postal Service will be cutting Saturday delivery). Throw in some odd commercials that ran during the Super Bowl featuring obscurely dry humor, and you have officially reached the status of EPIC FAIL. This FAIL is actually surprising given the relatively successful branding and marketing of Cash for Clunkers, the First Time Homebuyers Tax Credit, and the Obama campaign.
Can we learn any lessons from this disaster? Yes, we can learn a lot about how to focus a message when the target audience is ... well ... everyone.
1. Focus the message towards Gen Y, and work outward from there. Instead, the Census chose to market to Boomers (a generation that has already participated in several censuses), and work outward from there. I feel that this approach has, thus far, been unsuccessful. The real measure of success will come with the Census results.
2. Just because a product or service isn't "cool" doesn't mean that you can't make it "cool." You did know that the prune community started marketing prunes as dried plums, right? I think we would all agree that there is nothing less "cool" than concern for regularity. In other words, can you take a product that naturally has an alternative demographic, and through marketing, open the door to a new market?
3. An investment in engaging Gen Y will lead to a legion of brand advocates. If you are reading this article, then you probably already know this. Gen Y will become your marketing department. Marketing dollars are best leveraged with Gen Y. This fact actually makes your job easier. The U.S. Census Bureau chose to ignore this.
The U.S. Census Bureau's strategy is shocking. These are modern times. I get email from Barack Obama. As marketers we must understand that stodgy programs can have life, via our efforts. If you are marketing across several age demographics, consider spending your money on Gen Y, and let them do some of the work for you.