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.

Michelle Malkin Hearts Us..And Makes Some Valid Points

Though we’re a staunchly non-partisan media outlet, yesterday we became a darling of the right, as Michelle Malkin sung our praises. Perhaps the best point in her article is that Christopher Guest’s “viral” video has fewer than 7,000 hits on YouTube, but maybe that will soon change with all of this (ahem, negative) exposure:

The Super-Sized Census Boondoggle

By Michelle Malkin  •  February 5, 2010 10:19 AM

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.

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The Super-Sized Census Boondoggle
by Michelle Malkin
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2010

If only the federal government were as responsible with our money as Pepsi is with theirs. The soda giant has been in the Super Bowl ad business for more than two decades. But this year, Pepsi determined it was economically unwise to pay $3 million for a 30-second spot. So, who’s foolish enough to pay for Super Bowl gold-plated airtime? You and me and Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Census Bureau will squander $2.5 million on a half-minute Super Bowl ad starring D-list celebrity Ed Begley, Jr., plus two pre-game blurbs and 12-second “vignettes” featuring Super Bowl anchor James Brown. It’s a drop in the Census boondoggle bucket (otherwise known as the tax-subsidized National Democrat Future Voter Outreach Drive). The Obama White House has allocated a total of $340 million on an “unprecedented” promotional blitz for the 2010 Census. That’s on top of $1 billion in stimulus money siphoned off for increased Census “public outreach” and staffing. In all, the Census will triple its total budget from 2000 to $15 billion.

Ads pimping the Census have already appeared during the Golden Globe awards and will broadcast during the Daytona 500 and NCAA Final Four championships. Some $80 million will be poured into multi-lingual ads in 28 languages from Arabic to Yiddish. Racial and ethnic groups have been squabbling over their share of the pie.

The U.S. census is a decennial census mandated by our constitution. Should Americans know about it? Sure. Should the p.r. budget become a bottomless slush fund in recessionary times? Surely not.

Yet, no matter how you translate it, the Census commercials to date have been an Ishtar-style flop. Global ad agency Draftfcb, based in (Obama’s hometown) Chicago and New York, nabbed a $200 million, four-year contract to oversee the Census Bureau’s direct marketing, online, and offline general market media strategies. The agency hired comedian Christopher Guest to produce “viral” spots. One of the supposedly “humor-driven” videos produced by Guest and commissioned by Draftfcb was uploaded to YouTube a few weeks ago. It has racked up a measly 6,880 views.

“For a once-a-decade project involving every living American, that’s a pretty crummy return on investment,” jeered AdFreak.com’s David Griner. “The video seems to be hampered by the same problem that plagues all campaigns meant to ‘go viral.—i.e., it’s simply not that funny…[T]he joke is a chuckler at best, and dragged out to three minutes, that chuckle gets spread pretty thin.” According to independent Census watchdog Stephen Morse, the feds conducted a total of 115 focus groups in 37 markets across the country before settling on the dud of an ad.

That’s a hell of a lot of focus-grouping to get people to pay a little extra attention to government head-count questionnaires that will be coming straight to their mailboxes, anyway.

Taxpayers are also footing the bill for the Mother of all Government Junkets – a three-month, $15 million road trip by lucky-ducky Census Bureau flacks traveling in 13 buses and cargo vans with trailers. They’ll be partying in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and at parades across the country. In case you were wondering about the anticipated Census Road Show carbon footprint, it’s an estimated 223 metric tons.

But not to worry: The eco-racketeers of an Al Gore-endorsed carbon offset firm called “Carbonfund.org” have become official government “partners” with the Census to offset all the vehicle emissions – and surf off the free publicity to garner more shady business.

As if overpriced TV ads, online videos no one watches, and indulgent, cross-country caravans weren’t enough, the Census Bureau is also enlisting 56 million schoolchildren to pester their parents and act as junior government enumerators. Educrats are spending several billions more on math and social studies lessons peddling the Census. Overzealous Census partners such as the National Association of Latino Elected Officials have distributed recruitment propaganda urging constituents to participate because “Joseph and Mary participated in the Census.” Goodness knows what kind of fear-mongering curricula the kids are being served in the name of counting heads – and shaping the electoral landscape.

“When times are tough, you tighten your belts,” President Obana lectured us. “You don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas.” Coincidentally, the Census Road Tour junketeers just wrapped up a visit in Vegas. Next stop? You guessed it: The Super Bowl in Miami. Taxpayers should start crying foul.

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7 Responses to “Michelle Malkin Hearts Us..And Makes Some Valid Points”

  1. an_oak_tree Says:

    What’s valid about calling NALEO overzealous?
    Is Michelle Malkin a racist who would rather see an undercount of Latinos than any
    census promotion targeted to them?

  2. Steven Jost, U.S. Census Says:

    There are a number of errors in the Malkin post, but perhaps the most important to point out is that the outreach campaign that is now rolling out was fundamentally created by the prior Administration. The Bush Commerce Department found the 2000 promotional campaign one of the key reasons the 2000 census increased response rates by the public and made it the most accurate in history. The prime contractor for the 2010 campaign was retained in 2008 under a contract conceived and executed under the Bush Administration. Most of the funding for this promotional effort was proposed in budgets submitted to Congress by President Bush and approved with bipartisan support in Congress.

    Most importantly, the purpose of the outreach effort is to save the taxpayers money. It is designed to help increase the share of households who mail back their form. For each one percent increase we realize in response, the Census saves $80 million to $90 million in expensive follow up to households that do not mail back the form. In 2000, the Census returned to the U.S. Treasury some $305 million in savings in part because America responded at higher rates than was projected based upon the 1990 experience.

  3. FactChecker Says:

    Seems to me that the Super Bowl add is a smart investment. I normally mute commercials but the Super Bowl is unique in that viewers stick around just to watch commercials. Then the next week is spent viewing them online which would reach millions more people.

    Why aren’t you arguing that Pepsi made the wrong move?

  4. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Thanks for all the points. And Mr. Jost, thanks for posting. A couple of questions for you: Since you did not refute that the Guest YouTube video has garnered very few hits (now 8,759), how do you explain that the focus groups chose this one? Did the Census Bureau or Draftfcb conduct these focus groups? Can you please publish the results? (I personally think that the ad is neither funny nor insightful…and I LOVE Christopher Guest films!)

  5. Steven Jost, U.S. Census Says:

    The entire outreach effort does not rest on a single advertisement, however we believe these initial ads have achieved their goal — raising awareness of the Census. The fact we are having this dialogue is part of that achievement.

    Neither do we expect everyone to give a thumbs up to every single ad, which is why we have a series of ads targeted to various audiences. Stephen, perhaps you will prefer the coming PSA featuring Eva Longoria? We will soon shift to another genre of ads that will attempt to inspire every household to mail back their form.

    Finally, what our contractors showed to focus groups was the concept of attempting to capture the entire population in a single snap shot to illustrate the huge challenge for the Census to count everyone. We did share the results of these and other focus groups throughout all of 2009 with our Advisory Committees, the Congress, and in other forums, some of which were open to the press. One reason we believe the Census ad campaign was highly regarded in 2000 is because we had then, and have now, such a transparent and open creative review process with our stakeholders.

    Enjoy the big game, the Census ad, and remember to watch for your Census form coming in mid-March — and of course, mail it back.

  6. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Steven, here’s my pitch for you: MyTwoCensus.com would like to partner with the Census Bureau and Draftfcb to solicit a 15 or 30 second advertisement created by members of the American public. You, me, and representatives from Draftfcb and GlobalHue can judge the competition. And then you can air the winning self-made 2010 Census promo nationally (in a similar fashion to the annual Doritos competition) What do you think? I think this would be a great way to garner interest for the decennial, particularly from the 17-34 year old hard to count group. Perhaps we run the competition from February 15-March 10 and start airing the winning submission soon after…Let me know! SRM

  7. Steven Jost, U.S. Census Says:

    It’s a good idea to engage the public, and we have something very similar in the works, except our plan is to let the public be the judges!

    Appreciate your enthusiasm, stay tuned!