Bus station shelters. Billboards. Radios. Televisions. Newspapers and magazines. Websites. Social media.
If you haven’t yet seen or heard ads for the 2020 Census, you’re about to.
The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday announced details of a $500 million national advertising campaign to spread the word about the decennial population count and persuade millions of people in the United States to fill out questionnaires. The campaign is the “most robust” and most research-driven marketing effort in census history, according to the bureau, as overall participation in surveys and trust in government have decreased and the media landscape has fragmented.
More than 1,000 advertisements designed to reach 99% of U.S. households will herald the coming of the census in English and 12 other languages over the next couple of months. The census starts in remote regions of Alaska next week and nationwide in mid-March.
Having residents answer census questionnaires themselves online, by phone, or by mail is more accurate and less expensive than sending census workers door to door.
"The 2020 Census is here,” Steven Dillingham, director of the Census Bureau, said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday after showing off one of the video advertisements. “Like we say in the ad: Across America, we all count.”
The tagline for the 2020 Census is “Shape Your Future. START HERE.”
The census will determine the distribution of hundreds of billions in federal dollars to states and local communities, the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House, and the boundaries of voting districts. Researchers have found people are most likely to respond to the census if they know how they, their families, and their communities can benefit, so advertisements emphasize the rewards.
The census got lots of free publicity last year in the form of news coverage, congressional hearings, and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the Trump administration’s unsuccessful attempt to add a question about citizenship status. But while the question will not appear on the census, bureau officials acknowledge not all news is good news, and the controversy over the question may still suppress population counts in immigrant communities distrustful of the government.
The ads emphasize counting everyone living in a household most of the time, including noncitizens and unrelated occupants.
A team of 13 communications and advertising agencies developed the 2020 Census advertisements with a focus on reaching historically undercounted groups, such as immigrants and racial minorities.
In one video ad the Census Bureau showed Tuesday, children had the only speaking roles, teaching adults whom to count on their forms. (New baby sister, yes. Best friend who stays for sleepovers, no.) Children are historically undercounted.
The bureau also will continue to advertise for temporary census jobs. It is aiming to recruit 2.7 million people nationwide — including roughly 198,000 in Philadelphia — for hundreds of thousands of part-time positions. This month, the agency hiked hourly pay for 2020 Census workers to try to attract more applicants, as recruitment has lagged.
As of this week, more than 1.7 million people have applied, according to the Census Bureau.
Advertisements encouraging participation in the census will continue through June, while census takers count households that have not responded.
In addition to English, ads will be in Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.