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2010 Census Superbowl Ad – The Best Offense is a Good Defense

So the Census Bureau decided to spend $2.5 million to run an ad last night during SuperBowl XLIV, which caused some on Capitol Hill to finger wag about the investment and poor reviews from ad experts. Fair enough, we should be questioning how our government agencies spend taxpayer money as they strive to meet their mission. This post isn’t about that, however. It’s about the nice job Census did in pulling together a multi-channel communications campaign to surround the advertising spot.

Shortly after the ad ran, the Twitter ID for census tweeted: “If 1% of folks watching #SB44 change mind and mail back #2010Census form, taxpayers save $25 million in follow up costs.” Around the same time, they posted the same thing over at their Facebook wall in response to comments on the ad. A little poking around found they also had an FAQ on the SuperBowl ad up at their site, and even posted from that FAQ over at GovLoop. The Census Director even blogged about the decision to run the ad.

Good overall communications to help the public, media and those on the Hill understand why Census bought an ad during the big game, and what the expected payoff could be. As Director Robert M. Groves wrote in his blog post: “Funding an integrated communications campaign for the 2010 Census was a business decision.”

It was also great to see multiple social channels take front and center in the bureau’s communications plans. Though it would have been nice to see a bit more interactivity. While the communications team did a good job with timing Twitter and Facebook posts to coincide with the actual ad airing, messages were static and stuck strictly to a cut and paste script. A quick Twitter search shows some mixed opinion with many thinking the money spent was money wasted. Some proactive tweets to share the savings message via “@ replies” could possibly help with that. Some thank you’s to those who retweeted their message about savings wouldn’t hurt either (as those folks have already shown the willingness to help spread the word and could do so again).

It’s also a bit strange that you can view the ad straight from the Census web site and their Facebook page, but *not* from their YouTube page (as of this writing). Instead, they evidently have decided to go with a whole viral/creative campaign around fictional film director Payton Schlewitt (Ed Begley Jr. in last night’s ad), posting the ad to “his” YouTube Channel and “his” Facebook fan page. No Twitter account for “Payton Schlewitt,” however, though I just registered one and will hand over if someone at Census would like it.

All-in-all, I think kudos are in order to the 2010 Census team for understanding that it takes a good mix of both offense and defense when it comes to the communications game.

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Kathleen Smith

Good to hear that there was an overall multi channel campaign as those of us in the room who watched the ad – many of them Hill staffers – went “WTF?” There was no Call to Action in the ad. The Hill staffers all groaned at how they were going to have to field complaints momentarily.

Again good to hear that there was a complementary campaign online to that which was on TV, but the ad still could have done more.