2010 Census Ad Campaign Positioned to Save Taxpayers Millions

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

There has been some recent criticism about spending taxpayer money on advertising for the 2010 Census. Experience from the 2000 Census, however, shows that paid advertising can motivate people to respond to the census form by mail, saving the taxpayer millions.

The Census Bureau projects for every one percentage point increase in the national mail back participation rate for the 2010 Census, the federal government saves $85 million. It costs substantially more money to send census takers to households that fail to mail back their short 10 question form than it does to receive it by mail.

The Census Bureau launched its first ever paid advertising campaign for the 2000 Census. Prior to that, the Census Bureau relied on public service announcements that aired whenever television stations and print media could fit a pro bono advertisement into their schedules. The end result in 2000 was a census that turned around the three-decade decline in response rates and exceeded the 1990 Census mail response rate. At the same time, the 2000 Census reduced the differential undercount of minority groups compared to the rest of the nation.

Because of the higher response rate, the Census Bureau saved at least $305 million and returned that money to Congress following the census. The advertising campaign in the 2000 Census cost about $100 million, a $205 million return on investment.

In 2001, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans testified before the Senate and praised the Census Bureau for its outreach efforts: “The Bureau successfully implemented paid advertising for the first time in Census 2000, placing over $100 million in media buys designed to educate and motivate the public to respond.”

In a separate Commerce Department report in 2001 – Improving Our Measure of America: What Can Census 2000 Teach Us in Planning for 2010 – the Inspector General Jonnie Frazier (1997-2007) said, “Census 2000’s paid advertising and partnership campaign achieved its intended goal – the response rate of 67 percent surpassed the 1990 response rate of 65 percent, despite projections of lower participation. The campaigns should be repeated for 2010, and perhaps expanded to reach greater numbers of people from hard-to-count populations.”

Funding an integrated communications campaign for the 2010 Census was a business decision. By investing in an awareness and motivation campaign now, we can encourage more people to take 10 minutes to fill out the 10 question form and mail it back when it arrives in March.

In addition to advertising, the Census Bureau has also launched other initiatives: a national road tour traveling to communities to increase awareness that the census is coming, a partnership program that now has more than 185,000 partners nationwide, and a Census in Schools program seeking to educate students about the nation’s population and how it has changed since the first census in 1790.

I’d like nothing more than to return money once again back to the taxpayers following this census because they mailed back the census forms at a record rate. In the end, the American public’s willingness to participate in the 2010 Census will determine its success and how much money we’re able to save and return back to Congress.

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27 Responses to 2010 Census Ad Campaign Positioned to Save Taxpayers Millions

  1. Barbara says:

    I imagine those who complain about the cost are also the first to feel their state is cheated if they don’t a ‘fair share’ of the things the Census Bureau measures. I use the data for all sorts of things, personal and work related and appreciate the work of the Bureau. Keep it up!

  2. Akassabov says:

    Would it be even more cost effective to offer the census form online? The form is simple, only 10 questions. It shouldn’t be too hard to build it and protect it. And it would save $$$ on paper, printing and mailing costs.

  3. HansG says:

    hey, that sounds a little too defensive for me. You just made the point the day before. We believe you!

  4. Bob says:

    Tax Payer money should be spent more wisely. There is no way the money spent on this can be justified. Given the bold arrogance our government spends our tax dollars; I refuse to fill out the census because of this advertisement.

  5. Eric says:

    I have to agree with Barbara. I work in the private sector and we use Census Bureau data daily. It’s a good check for third party data we purchase. A common complaint is government should be run more like a business — unfortunately when you try implement innovation you get slammed for spending money. Thanks for spending our money wisely.

  6. Akassabov,
    Please see the Director’s post about the census and the Internet at http://blogs.census.gov/2010census/2009/12/2010-census-and-the-internet.html

  7. Stacy Belanger says:

    I think that there should be a form online, it would save a ton of paper and it might make people more willing to fill it out. I do almost everything on my computer. But I have no problem filling out the form, and I don’t understand why people wouldn’t want to. It is unfair to everyone else for someone to just straight out refuse to fill out the form because they don’t want to. This data is used by so many people, as a matter of fact I am studying it in school right now. It is only 10 questions and the postage is paid for, so why throw it in the garbage? “It costs substantially more money to send census takers to households that fail to mail back their short 10 question form than it does to receive it by mail.”

  8. Ben says:

    Hey Bob. That’s great! The more people there are like you around the country, the more my neighborhood will get what it needs. Now that’s my kind of protest!!! Thanks, dude. (unless, of course, you are from my neighborhood, in which case…please fill out your form accurately.)

  9. This will not save taxpayers a dime! It says above the $305M saved in 2000 was returned to Congress, NOT the taxpayers. The $400B to be distributed came from taxpayers’ paychecks….and China. The Constitution does not give the federal government the power to redistribute wealth. Let the taxpayers keep their money!

  10. Mark says:

    Advertising is useful for those who have no opposition to being counted. It’s the people who want to stay private for a number of reasons, that is where the resources should go. I am not sure who will fill out a form because they saw Ed Begley Jr. act like someone he scoffs at in the Hollywood community, though I am sure those people are the same that will readily fill out an easy to reply email or postal mail form, without seeing Ed. The people who are here legally, or live off-grid, or who are actually not willingly giving up every piece of themselves through social media, or those distrustful of Government, those are the ones you need to focus your advertising dollars on, and it is through those communities underground those dollars need to be focused. Places they identify as a safe haven and you need to frame it where they can continue to be anonymous in their daily lives if they take part in the census.

  11. Ron says:

    There are 3 U.S born Americans living in our home. That is all the information the government needs to know. Age, race, sex, and country of origin should not, and do not, matter under the equality laws of the United States. We are all supposed to be treated equally regardless of those factors. I will answer my census form on that basis and will not share any additional information if a census taker comes to my home.

  12. Ron,
    It is constitutional to include questions in the decennial census beyond those concerning a simple count of the number of people because, on numerous occasions, the courts have said the Constitution gives Congress the authority to collect statistics in the census. Please visit this Web page for more information: http://2010.census.gov/2010census/why/constitutional.php

  13. I’d love to be counted but we never received any forms to fill out. What’s up Mr. Director?

  14. Margaret,
    Census forms will be mailed to over 100 million households beginning on March 15, 2010.

  15. Boris Sabo Carlisle says:

    Though this is a very good idea, creating the necessary IT system that will allow such a high volume of users to respond to a survey and maintain their replies is a project that will cost much and take over a year to create.

  16. Fred says:

    Just recieved the letter from Groves, the director, that let me know that I will recieve a 2010 census form in the future, as if I didn’t know that. What a waste to send out 100 million letters like that! As I opened it, I already had my pen out to fill out the forms, because that’s what I thought was enclosed. What a waste of my time also. Junk mail from the government…

  17. Dave F says:

    The government is the largest consumer of and waste of paper in this country. They are the first to demand others to “go green” but they are the last to get on board.
    At the very least, it costs $49.2 million dollars in postage (41 cents per) to send the “reminder” mailer out to 120 million homes. This does not include the cost of paper or printing. This reminder is supposed to save us $85 million dollars per every 1% of 120 million households that would “require a visit.” That equates to $70.83 per visit to ask 10 questions. The more you spend, the more you save mentality is insane.

  18. Donna Brunson says:

    I don’t care how you spin it, advertising for the Census is a complete waste of taxpayer dollars. Are there that many Americans who are so uninformed that they are unaware of what to do with their Census form? In addition, yesterday, I received a letter informing me that the Census would be coming in a week. Just send the Census and save the money for the cost of this unncessary mailing. Seems like a case of government “makework” at taxpayer expense!

  19. Donna,
    We have extensive research that shows additional mailings alerting households to the arrival of the census form increase response rates by about 6 to 12 percentage points. The savings from that increase more than pay for these mailings. It costs about $85 million to print and mail the advance letter and reminder postcard. The potential increase in response rates demonstrated by our research could result in a savings of more than $500 million.

  20. Rebecca M. says:

    So could we divert the $85 million on the warning mailers to the website creation cause? I worked for a web design company that did banking sites and I can tell you it’s A LOT less than $85 million to design a secure site. Hey, in fact, a good number of my friends worked for Sony in IT and they just laid off ALL of those employees and sent the jobs to India so I know where you can find some talented people who could really use jobs… I do realize it’s a big and expensive task, but a year and $85 million should definitely be able to get the job done. In fact, it can probably create a good enough system so we can vote online too. Imagine what that might do for saving money for the government. I’m sorry but saying you’ve researched it this decade just doesn’t cut it. A lot has changed in terms of web design and development in the last year alone. You can do it, there really isn’t an excuse except you chose not to do it.

  21. JB says:

    I agree with Donna Brunson. I received a letter alerting me that we would receive Census data in a couple of weeks. What a complete waste of resources. Imagine if the government were run like a nonprofit organization!

  22. Gov.garnishmydisabilitycheckmonthly says:

    What good is this if we still have people crossing the Border everyday and our tax dollars are being used to take care of these people instead of our own,and the elderly that have worked all their lives, and paid their taxes. Now these people pay no taxes but we pay for them to have dozen of kids, but pay no taxes. If the Gov. enforced the law as written and make everyone that work in this country pay taxes I could see the reason behind the census form, but they don’t gather the info needed. Rounding up these people deporting them or making them pay taxes as American would help this country more Gov. is wasting money on these forms.

  23. Chris says:

    Why did the census campaign include giving municipalities items such as baseball caps, ice scrapers, luggage tags, plastic tumblers, and containers with adhesive bandages, all printed with the census logo? It seems to me to be a huge waste of money. Worst of all, the label on the cap says it was made in China! How can you justify buying from other countries–especially for something as American as the census–when millions of Americans are out of work?

  24. Ouray says:

    Why do the TV ads emphasize “fill out the census and your community will receive federal funding benefits”? That is not the constitutional basis for the census -so you have lost a chance to make this educational!
    And it helps promote the falsehood that the federal government has money of its own – it doesn’t; it only has money it takes from current and future taxpayers.

  25. Ouray says:

    Why do the adds emphasize “what you, or your community, will get from government”.
    That perpetuates the myth of government having its own money to “give”.
    Wrong – government only has what it taxes away from present or future taxpayers (to pay off the national debt).

  26. Shir says:

    Can someone at Census (not anyone else commenting on these forums) tell me what the budget for the census is, and how much as been spent so far? It’s hard to deny claims the bureau is overspending when the information to combat the statement is impossible to find. Thanks!

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