My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

The Super Bowl Ad: The Census Bureau Responds To MyTwoCensus Questions has received a fair share of e-mails from Americans who are all asking the same question: Why did the Census Bureau choose to purchase a multimillion dollar Super Bowl advertisement? Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner has responded to this and other related questions below:

Questions from Stephen Robert Morse, Founder/Editor of Whose idea was it to air an ad for the Census Bureau during the Super Bowl? Who chose Christopher Guest as the director of the ad? Who chose which specific ad or ads will run? Which ad or ads will run? Were there ever focus groups to see how effective the ads were? If so, where and when did these focus groups take place? What were the results of these studies?

Answers from Stephen Buckner, Assistant Division Chief, Decennial Programs, Public Information Office:

The essential challenge for the Census is that because it happens only once
every ten years, many U.S. residents are unaware of when it happens (in
March) and how they participate (by mail).  Our own research in late 2009
showed less than 10% of Americans surveyed correctly answered that the 2010
Census occurred in March.  

The first goal of our promotion efforts is to
raise awareness of the when and how the Census works.  We have a very
limited window of opportunity to achieve our goals Jan – April, and
therefore need programming that delivers high ratings.   The 2000 Census
paid advertising campaign also had a Super Bowl ad for just this reason.

The Super Bowl is the top-rated and most highly anticipated television
event in the U.S.  An ad running once in the Super Bowl has the potential
to reach 45% adults over age 18.  For comparison, CSI which is one of the
top rated programs on television delivers a 6.6 rating with adults, which
is a fraction of the reach of the Super Bowl.   A 30 second spot on the
top-rated regularly scheduled show in America, American Idol costs $450,000
and has a 9.5 rating, or just 9.5% of adults are watching.   The Super Bowl
reaches 100 million viewers at a very efficient price compared to other

 The Super Bowl is rare, in that viewers are just as tuned in to see the
commercials as the program itself.  Commercials that air on the Super Bowl
have a multiplier effect.  Advertisers are mentioned in multiple news media
outlets and viewers will typically look to view them online almost
immediately after airing.  Therefore, airing once in the Super Bowl creates
significant buzz leading to additional viewing potential.

Our media buy with CBS consists of (1) 30 second ad in the 3rd Quarter.
CBS provided added value in the form of (2) more 30 second ads in the
pre-game show and an additional (2-3) 12-second vignettes featuring James
Brown delivering a message on behalf of the Census.  We believe the message
delivered by James Brown who is the host of the day, will carry great
weight with viewers.

We did not choose the Super Bowl itself for an ad, or at the expense of
some other programming.  We went where the audience was to be found, and
CBS put the Super Bowl into their proposal for all Census ad dollars, along
with the NCAA finals and other high profile programming.  NBC similarly
offered us special programming for advertising during the Olympics.

We did conduct focus groups and other research for all of our paid
advertising concepts in 2009, including the concept of a “Snap Shot of 300
million Americans” which became the ads being directed by Christopher
Guest.  They tested very positively.  We conducted a total of 115 focus
groups in 37 markets cities across the United States for all our
advertising, television, radio, print, digital and out door.

The first ad in the series is currently airing and will also air during the
Super Bowl pre-game. A new will air during the game, but if we told you
what it was all about, it would spoil all the suspense.  While we reply on
the professional expertise and advice of our expert advertising
contractors, the Census Bureau is responsible for these ads and their

Finally, Super Bowl advertisers see a significant lift in internet searches
which is a great opportunity for Census to drive traffic to
to further educate viewers on the Census.

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15 Responses to “The Super Bowl Ad: The Census Bureau Responds To MyTwoCensus Questions”

  1. Michelle Malkin » The Super-Sized Census Boondoggle Says:

    [...] My column looks at the bloated Census p.r. and education budget. GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson is asking questions. As well he should. History shows that the more the Census spends on advertising, the lower the response rate is. Best watchdog site for all the latest Census shenanigans: My Two Census. [...]

  2. Bruce Says:

    And why did the US government hire the ad agancy draftfcb to do the ads?
    Could be because (according to FEC records) draftfcb employees made 54 political contributions to Obama and Democrats, versus 1 to Ron Paul.

    Draftfcb then hired actor Ed Begley (41 political contributions, all to Democrats) for the ad.

    This ad buy is pure payoff.

  3. jerry Says:

    the us constitution say we must have a cenus but we dont need to fill it out all our goverment needs to knows is how many people live in our country.

  4. zf Says:

    His whole answer seems predicated on the idea that people will respond to ads promoting the Census the same way they do ads promoting, say snack foods or beer. Does he really think that that a government program like the census is compelling or interesting enough that an ad about it will send people rushing in droves to the website see what all the “excitement” and “fun” is about? I doubt it. Did the 2000 census Super Bowl ad lead to record numbers of people sending in their forms? Again, I doubt it.

    Also, focus groups only give you a “snapshot” (ironic use of phrase) of reality and a limited indication of how an ad might be perceived. Many campaigns, movies and tv shows tested positive among focus groups only to bomb among the general public. Groups don’t replicate the real world. This could backfire, as if those millions of SB viewers find the ad(s) heavy-handed or unfunny, it could lead to *less* people participating than otherwise might have. Also, those people who adamantly are against filling out the form are not going to change their mind based on a few ads.

    Also, as MM pointed out, Pepsi for one did not want to fork over the dough for a gold plated ad. Seems to me that at least some folks are seeing deeper factors about the economics and wisdom of expensive Super Bowl ads beyond the simplistic and superficial notion that all the supposed “value” and “reaching power” of such an ad makes up for the steep cost and are taking pause.

    Also, this not just about a high price SB ad. The entire Census campaign is unprecedented in scale and scope and the fact that with Obamas new rigged census rules a high census participation could benefit the Democrats does not seem coincidental.

  5. Mr. America Says:

    Well, I can tell you and the entire nation…DON’T FILL OUT THE CENSUS FORM AND DON’T MAIL IT BACK TO THE CROOKS IN D.C.!! I sure as heck am not.

  6. The Super-Sized Census Boondoggle « Thoughts Of A Conservative Christian Says:

    [...] My column looks at the bloated Census p.r. and education budget. GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson is asking questions. As well he should. History shows that the more the Census spends on advertising, the lower the response rate is. Best watchdog site for all the latest Census shenanigans: My Two Census. [...]

  7. Conservative Patriot Says:

    Cool beans, Mr. America. Don’t fill out your census form and don’t vote either. The people who do fill out the census will just get more representatives in Congress. But you don’t care about that. BOYCOTT!!!!!! BECAUSE I’M MAD!!!!!!

  8. Mr Bill Says:

    only the number of people needs to be provided. nothing else if we are truly nondiscriminatory.

  9. Gorio Says:

    So, they have to take out a commercial because the general public is ignorant of the fact that every 10 years this occurs to redistrict and gerrymander? Hmm, given the fact that most Americans are concerned about American Idol contestants or who will be Oprah’s or Jerry’s next guests I would think they could have saved about 65% and bought airtime on those shows collectively and hit their targets? Or, maybe during the MSM news times since that is where the Kool Aid drinkers get their fix? I do agree with former Congressman Tancredo on this one; people should be tested for voting competence before being given a ballot. Same goes with the census, if they don’t care enough about living here, then they don’t need to be counted because any representation provided them fails if they don’t give a rat’s butt in the first place. That is how our current occupant of the White House was elected. Based on feelings, race, and charisma. Bsically, empty suited himself right by the morons.

  10. Duncan Says:

    Bureau of Census Mr. Buckner’s response I believe is simply not true. He is crediting the research done on other ads to the Guest spots. He also says the Snapshot of America concept was tested and did well….except a completely different concept was tested…maybe with that name, but nothing like the spot and series of spots that DFCB produced. They came up with that concept after focus groups and did not work with other agencies that had partnered with them throughout development on this. Which is why NONE of the ads produced by the other agencies who worked hard and conducted disciplined market research produced ads that look or sound anything like what the “LEAD” agency ended up producing. In other words, a whole campaign was developed and partner agencies worked in tandem and than at the eleventh hour, DFCB did their own thing, paid a lot of money to produce a pig with lipstick and had the nerve to convine the Bureau of Census AND the American people to buy it!!! So, Mr. Buckner, please do YOUR research. You can say all you want about the “Campaign” but the truth is that the DFCB / Snapshot of America cpot have nothing to with the campaign produced by several other hard working agencies.


  11. Duncan Says:

    I just watched the spot and I learned NOTHING about the Census which is strange because I am being told that this an awareness spot. Of course I am aware there is a Census this year…who isn’t. But after watching the spot I know nothing about when it is, how it works, what to do? What was “advertised”?? Apparently some SPOOF of the actual Census that counts 300 million people that sound like they have already been counted if we know there are 300 million of us. Come on CENSUS people….you are not marketing experts but anyone can see that this spot SUCKS!
    - Duncan

  12. Gabby Says:

    My concern is that this commercial series with Christoper Guest directing, while a good concept, is surprisingly lacking in diversity! All of the main characters are white even Danya who is playing a Latina! Couldn’t the Latina population have been represented by one of their own? There are two African Americans in the first commercial, one has a two word line and one says uh huh. No Latinos, no Asians, no melting pot. I am Latina, I count. Hopefully we see this rectified later on in the series? One can only hope.

  13. My Two Census » Blog Archive » MyTwoCensus Investigation: Census Bureau’s lack of photo IDs for employees and use of cheap black canvas bags as “uniforms” aid scammers because impersonating a Census Bureau enumerator is all t Says:

    [...] hit the street — it wasn’t cost effective to take photos.” So the Census Bureau has no problem spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on ads, but has no budget to authenticate its workers’ identities in picture form to protect people [...]

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