Be Counted! U.S. Census Begins

Government shells out millions to get American’s to fill out census forms

The only thing you'll want more than a Big Mac or a Whopper come next spring is to get your hands on a U.S. Census form. At least that’s what the advertisements will have you believing. They what you to be counted in the next millennium.

The U.S. government has shifted it's focus away from Y2K and computer glitches and is spending $102 million to blitz the airwaves, magazines, newspapers and billboards with its Census message. Next to McDonalds's and Burger King, the Census will be the biggest advertiser on television from Feb. 1 to March 15.

The ads will be shown in prime time on the networks and cable, as well as on ethnic stations throughout the country. You won't see them during the Super Bowl, though. This is taxpayers' money, after all, and there are some limits.

The advertising agency of Young & Rubicam is making the ads and admits they will be a hard sell.

"When you're selling laundry detergent, you know women make decisions about laundry detergent more than men," Terry Dukes, executive Vice President at Young & Rubicam said. "So you'll target by age or income. "In this case, we know we have to get every single adult, 18 years and older, no matter what their background, their education level."

And worse yet, pre-campaign research shows that 60 percent of the public is either unlikely to respond to the census form in the mail or is undecided and passive about the whole thing. So not only does the campaign have to reach everyone, it has to convert a fair number of people who are not pre-disposed to fill out the form.

In Alaska, the word is being spread differently. It’s not television advertisements but pavement pounding being used by the government. Only 52 percent of Alaskans mailed back their census forms in 1990 making Alaska the state with the lowest participation rate.

Census Director Kenneth Prewitt went to Alaska himself to spread the news. Prewitt met with civic leaders, business people and others encouraging them to get out the word. Prewitt took thousands of census forms with him on the trip.

DATE: 1/24/2000

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