A Lousy Census Ad Campaign and Low Response Rates: You Do the Math

Last Updated Apr 1, 2010 2:56 PM EDT

If the response rate for the 2010 U.S. census fails to exceed that of the 2000 count, Congress might want to ask some tough questions about what, exactly, DraftFCB and the other ad agencies charged with publicizing the effort did with taxpayers' money.

Today is "census day," the date we're all supposed to have turned in our forms. Yet the national response rate is currently running at just 52 percent or so. In pockets of the country it's even worse. Parts of Long Island, N.Y., are at 33 percent. Texas is at 46 percent. Newark, N.J., has polled just 27 percent. Those are not good results for a campaign that cost the government $340 million, $145 million of which went directly on advertsing.

The campaign has been riven with controversy, not least for its expense. The main campaign drew fire for centering on an in-joke about the funny but not very popular movies of director Christopher Guest. A majority of the paid media was targeted at minorities, and some of it was used by ad agency Globalhue to buy "news" stories in black newspapers.

The question is, with all the new technology -- and the efficiencies that brings -- at their disposal, shouldn't the 2010 response be significantly better than the 2000 one? The pressure will be on these agencies to justify how this money was spent. This isn't idle speculation: The federal government is an aggressive client when it comes to auditing its own contracts.

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Image by Flickr user adriarichards, CC.