How do you brand and market the census when no one trusts the government?

Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

Census organizers face challenges this year they didn’t face in 2010, like a more fragmented media market, the chilling effect from a proposed citizenship question that the Supreme Court stopped last year, and other factors.

“Survey rates have been declining every year” and “mistrust in government is much higher,” said Kendall Johnson, a 2020 Census executive director, during an event in Washington, D.C.

So to complete the 2020 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau is rolling out a $500 million public education and outreach campaign beginning this month it says is based on an unprecedented amount of research. It will include more than 1,000 ads estimated to reach 99% of U.S. households multiple times.

The tagline of the campaign, “Shape Your Future: Start Here,” was created because their research found the most motivating factor for completing the census was community benefit. Census data is used to determine congressional representation as well as federal funds and grants. Population data is also used by businesses, developers, and local governments.

VMLY&R is the agency of record for the 2020 Census and 13 other agencies also worked on the campaign and helped create ads targeting specific communities.

Organizers said there is a heavy emphasis this year on people who are traditionally hard to reach because of issues ranging from language barriers to living in gated communities.

“One ad is not the answer for every audience,” Johnson said. “The creative is speaking to the messaging we found in our research that was most appropriate to each particular audience.”

There’s even a few logo variations for some communities. The logo for American Indian and Alaska Native population features two feathers encircling the standard Census logo, while Puerto Rico has a “Censo 2020” logo that includes the tagline in Spanish.

The standard logo will be used in outreach for languages other than English, alongside the tagline written the specific language:

The campaign includes more than 150 TV ads, more than 220 radio ads, and more than 1,000 digital ads. Outdoor ads will include billboards, bus shelters, and even gas station pump handles. Ads will run in 13 languages.

The 2020 Census’ 30-second “Everyone Counts” ad

It’s estimated digital will make up about 30% of the media buy, and following a 2018 test in Rhode Island, organizers estimate about 60% to 65% of self respondents will respond online.

The campaign will roll out in three phases. From January to February will be an awareness phase, introducing the census; from March to April will be a motivation phase, with messaging that responding to the census is easy; and from May to August will be a reminder phase, with messaging that responding is urgent.

A few other 2020 Census branding details: The primary typeface is Century Gothic, and the secondary typeface is Gotham (if you need more proof of the power of former President Obama’s 2008 branding, his campaign typeface being used 12 years later in official government branding is pretty good evidence). The 2020 Census color palette is black, white, and “census red,” with teal and green in light and dark, and “census blue” as accent colors: