No Sense In Marketing Of The Census

If the U.S. population was represented by Woody Allen's "Manhattan," the Fed's $300 million investment in Draftfcb's 2010 census communications program will probably deliver the greatest ROI in marketing history. This sprawling campaign has been resoundingly criticized for lame humor, lackluster creative and missed targeting. But hold on, folks! Our fellow marketing brethren at Draftfcb didn't even get the contract until September 2007 and only had support from 11 other companies!

The Census Bureau mandated that "the communications contractor must develop and implement a campaign targeted to all and every single element of the population." With a paltry $1 per head, Draftfcb hedged its bet. It created a two-pronged campaign: a "funny" one for the white audience and an unfunny educational one for everyone else, with whatever money was left over.

To hit all its targets, Draftfcb had to cut some corners. The intended-to-be "funny" side of the campaign included a Super Bowl commercial and a series of intended-to-be viral videos, starring comedian/actor Ed Begley Jr., who has intended to make people laugh since "St. Elsewhere." Draftfcb picked cult director Christopher Guest, whose most recent film, "For Your Consideration," grossed $5.5 million worldwide. I guess bankably funny Adam McKay, ("Talladega Nights," $162,966,177 worldwide gross), or Paul and Chris Weitz ("American Pie," $234,800,000 worldwide gross) would have been too much of a sure thing for the chance takers at Draftfcb. Besides, Draftfcb's not spending a real client's money -- it's spending ours!



Guest's selection of his almost all-white ensemble cast probably helped lock down that hard-to-access white, middle-class audience, leaving the rest of the population to be persuaded by an intentionally unfunny straightforward informational campaign, conveniently translated into 28 languages. These impassioned "talking head" ads capture about as much mindshare as a flight attendant demonstrating a seatbelt during a business commuter shuttle. It's clear that equal amounts of creative thought went into both prongs.

The "viral" aspects of the video campaigns have generated low viewership, hardly holding a candle to the millions of views garnered by videos like the unintentionally funny "Star Wars Kid." And those of you with children will be proud to know that your sons and daughters probably have more Facebook and Twitter friends than Draftfcb's handpicked social network marketers could drum up.

With a brain trust that includes Global Hue (African-American market), the IW group (Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific islanders), G&G (American Indians and Alaska Natives) and Draftfcb PR (Puerto Ricans), how could Draftfcb have left any population stones unturned?

Well, where's the agency that specializes in the Homeless, or the agency that specializes in the Recently Foreclosed On and Now Living in Halfway Houses? Aren't they also part of the population? Maybe Draftfcb wants to give everyone else a choice: self-select affiliation with the intended-to-be funny campaign or the intended-to-be unfunny campaign. After all, isn't freedom of choice the American way?

According to the Census Bureau the campaign has three goals:

1) Increase the mail response rate

2) Increase accuracy and reduce the differential undercount, and

3) Increase cooperation with door-to-door census takers.

Where does it say anything about trying to be funny or unfunny? No agency in the world could write a joke that would make everyone laugh.

The universal language isn't humor (or un-humor); it's money. Instead of giving all the money to one agency to get 300 million people to fill out a form, they should have just sent us each a buck and let us self-motivate. If we want to laugh, we can use it to rent "Animal House" at the nearest Redbox.

5 comments about "No Sense In Marketing Of The Census".
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  1. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, March 24, 2010 at 9:03 a.m.

    After this awe-uninspiring census campaign I can't wait to see what they give us to promote the launch of national healthcare. Hopefully more white men in rumpled bathrobes watching minority women having babies in the street. I know that touching scene motivated me to fill out and mail the form back promptly.

  2. Ellen Politi from Telemundo Network, March 24, 2010 at 10:24 a.m.

    A better idea would have been to buy everyone in the entire US a lottery card upon the return of their completed census forms. The average person on the street doesn't understand or really care how important it is to have completed data, but what they DO understand is cold hard cash, baby!

  3. Lynn Finney from WSFA News 12, March 24, 2010 at 10:54 a.m.

    After all the TV and radio hype, my tax dollars also went to the postal service. First, I received a mailed notice that the Census form would be mailed to me. Ten days later, the actual Census form arrived in the mailbox. Yesterday, I received another notice to remind me that the form had been mailed and I should fill it out and return it -under penalty of law should it not be returned.
    I must go back to work now to pay for the "postage paid " return envelope contained in the Census.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 24, 2010 at 10:58 a.m.

    Draft is drafty on this one. It doesn't take expensive names to be creative. But I wouldn't be surprised the people in charge of choosing the agency had no clue of what was needed creatively or technically, but did know how to choose the cheapest.

  5. Amy Fanter from Odds On Promotions, March 24, 2010 at 1:49 p.m.

    Why are we still doing the census on paper when even our taxes can be filed online? This alone would have saved the hundreds of thousands in "postage paid" envelopes. And dont even get me started about the waste associated with the Watch for i t & have you returned it postcards. Cant wait to see how they waste my $$$ promoting DeathPanel care .

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