Thursday, October 29, 2009

How the U.S. Census Is Reading Your Mind

Why Some Are More Likely Than Others to Respond, and What Would Make Them Participate

NEW YORK ( -- The upcoming census count will be accompanied by one of the broadest marketing efforts imaginable -- trying not just to reach every person living in the United States with a message, but getting all of them to act on that message.

"Typically when you're marketing a product ... you market it to the people who are most likely to buy that product. In this situation, we have to market to everyone, whether they are likely to participate or not," said Vita Harris, chief strategy officer at DraftFCB, who is handling the general-market leg of the census effort.
To go that broad, the $300 million-plus effort has to incorporate reams of data, tapping Census 2000 information, lifestyle and media habit data banks and cultural and ethnic studies.

But this year, the U.S. Census Bureau and its ad agency also decided to add an "attitudinal" layer. Although they already had the geographical and demographic data collected from previous polls, what they didn't know were the whys: Why was someone more or less likely to answer the census? And what could marketing do to improve the odds that they would?

So DraftFCB interviewed more than 4,000 people by phone, mobile phone and in-person during the summer of 2008, posing questions in 30 different areas, ranging from how much interviewees knew about the census to what kind of messages would make them participate. It took two months to analyze the data. And what came out was a statistical set of five different mind-sets that are most prevalent about the census.

While keeping in mind that race, ethnicity and demographics are also taken into account, we've pulled out just the mind-sets and queried DraftFCB about who there are, what each one thinks about the census, and how marketing can reach them.

The five types of census attitudes

UNACQUAINTED: The people in this group are "peripheral"; that is, they tend to be on the outside of the community, either transient or living with relatives. They are less likely to speak English as their first language. 

They've also never heard of the census and, even after a brief description, are still unlikely to fill it out. Social media, which is important to all groups, is especially relevant to the younger 22-to-34-year-olds in this group.

This group needs the most education and information, and one marketing push will, in fact, target their children. The 2010 Census in Schools' "It's About Us" effort, with free educational materials and plans for schools to talk to kids, also serves as a catalyst in Unaquainted homes when children bring home census materials and discuss them with their parents. In-language PSAs directed at this group will explain why the census matters to them.

Media plans for this group include ethnic buys, such as radio and print owned and operated by Native Americans, Arabic TV, sponsorships and/or product placements on TV shows such as George Lopez' new talk show or Tyler Perry's African-American generational family show "House of Payne," and many local buys such as restaurant media in ethnic restaurants. census marketing will be done in 28 languages in 2010, vs. just 14 in 2000, and the website will be available in 59 languages (see story, next page).

This group has a majority of minorities with almost half not born in the U.S. This group has the largest household size of four-or-more people are are most likely to have children in the household. They are the least educated, and have the lowest income (of the mind-sets), and are more likely to be renters than homeowners.

THE CYNICAL FIFTH: This stubborn group of respondents is labeled as "resistant." They claim to know little about the census, but in fact score high on the factual questions about what it does. They are negative about the Census and suspicious about what the collected data is used for. And they are difficult to reach -- not only because they philosophically don't agree with the census, but also because they skew as fairly average people (though slightly more male than the other mind-sets).

Rather than try to argue with them, Ms. Harris said creative messaging for this group will focus on the emotional impact of the Census, such as the common good, survival of the culture and benefits for future generations.

Traditional advertising also doesn't work well for this cynical group, so media planning is being built around connections. For instance, this group has an affinity for Nascar. Instead of buying a TV spot at Nascar events, a driver endorsement, for instance, would be more palpable for the cynical fifth. Athlete endorsements being considered for the Winter Olympics would particularly resonate with this group.

This group defies distinct definition, as they tend to mirror the population. They are more likely to have medium-to-high incomes and be more educated than the other mind-sets.

INSULATED: This group knows about the census, but they're indifferent. They don't believe the census has real meaning for them. There are also a higher percentage of women in the group. Messaging to them will focus on stories about how the census is personally beneficial to them, in areas such as job training, health care and community centers. Trusted voices and advocates in-language and in-culture are important to this group.

Local media is the main media venue for this group, and TV will be used. Local plans include such venues as lunch-truck advertising, migrant-farm-worker radio and partnerships with local radio DJs who can advocate the census to their listeners and encourage them to fill it out.

This group is most likely to be ethnic, with large pockets of 65 and older people, as well as widows. They are less likely to have children, and many don't speak English at home. They also tend to be homeowners with incomes of $25,000 or less and a lower education level with a majority completing high school or less.

HEAD NODDERS: This group, also known as "impressionable," profess to know a lot about the census. However, this group also performed the worst on the 10-15 "true or false" questions about the census, proving they actually know very little. As Ms. Harris said, "They're kind of like that friend that promises to come over and they have every intention of doing so, but then they don't show up. You just can't totally trust what they say."

Because this is the biggest group, it's also the one that affect mass-media scheduling the most. DraftFCB's plan to reach these non-committers is with high impact and high-frequency blast advertising throughout the month of March. Plans include radio sponsorships around census countdowns, outdoor ads with emphasis on transit and high-reminder places, and even gas pump media. This group needs to be reached and reminded over and over, and unusual media placement is meant to help the messages stick.

They are more likely to fall into the two census' "all-around-average" classifications. The first average group is more likely to own their home, live in the suburbs or a rural area, and is 80% white. The second average group is more likely to rent, live in an urban area and is 69% white. Both "all-around-average" groups earn an average annual salary of $45,000.

LEADING EDGE: This is the group every marketer wants. Also called the "committed," these people are informed and positive about the census. They almost don't need to be motivated, because not only are they likely to fill out the form and consider it their duty or privilege, they also have a propensity to encourage others to do the same. To that end, the Census is recruiting Leading Edge types who will act as advocates, whether they are church leaders, local government officials or community leaders. It's not traditional media, but the word-of-mouth generated gratis by these influencers can help motivate all other mind-sets.

As far as a specific media plan, the Leading Edge group won't get one, as they are likely to be captured through one or more of the other mass efforts, like the Olympics or Super Bowl. DraftFCB is interested in both venues, with the possibility of placing traditional commercials, as well as sponsorships and athlete or celebrity endorsements.

This group most closely resembles the census "advantaged homeowners" designation, which means they are most likely to be single families with low mobility, living in the suburbs, have an average salary of $69,000, and are 85% white.

As Media Market Shrinks, PR Passes Up Reporters, Pitches Directly to Consumers

Best Buy, MasterCard Among Those Creating Their Own Content

NEW YORK ( -- At a time when earned media is so highly sought after by marketers due to its (relative) low cost and the credibility with consumers, brands that rely on it are faced with the growing challenge of finding news outlets for their messages.

BRAND CHANNEL: YouTube helps brands broadcast their own messages.
As the body count of magazines and daily newspapers continues to rise and the once-robust news and feature holes of surviving publications shrink along with reporting staffs, some marketers have given up on the traditional path to media coverage: pitching journalists. According to the website Paper Cuts, which tracks layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers, nearly 30,000 reporters have left the industry since the beginning of 2008. So instead of pitching their stories to reporters, a growing number of marketers are directly engaging consumers through original content they and their agencies are creating.

"The traditional one-way media model has definitely had its day," said Sam Lucas, chair of U.S. brand marketing at WPP's Burson-Marsteller. "So agencies are talking to clients about these engagement models much more."

And while they haven't completely abandoned traditional media outlets, big-name marketers such as Procter & Gamble, Best Buy, MasterCard and Coldwell Banker are among those who have taken matters into their own hands by creating content and bringing it straight to consumers.

The other Tube
Mark Hass, CEO and partner of MH Group Communications, said one of his automotive clients is using YouTube very aggressively and sees it as a way to get its product messages out directly to consumers.

"They still have the usual car-and-driver folks drive and write about their cars, but that's becoming much less important than [it] used to be," Mr. Hass said. He said aside from controlling the message the other upside to creating and managing the dissemination of content is the potential to reach a wider and more diverse audience than just newspaper or magazine readers.

"You build a channel on YouTube and you get millions of views," Mr. Hass said. "And these people are coming from all over, and it's more about their interest in your product, as opposed to the readership and viewership of a particular medium. It's horizontal. If you wanted to reach that many people using traditional media, you would have to pitch and place in dozens of outlets."

Here's a sampling of what some marketers are doing on their own:

  • In May, Coldwell Banker, with the help of its PR shop Cooper Katz, launched a YouTube channel called Coldwell Banker on Location. David Siroty, senior director for PR at Coldwell Banker Real Estate, said the company uses the channel to post educational videos about the housing market and purchase process as well as house listings.

  • "We can bypass the media and do videos from our CEO, brokers and agents talking about what first-time home buyers should do," Mr. Siroty said. "You have a consumer that needs and wants to be re-educated on the nuances of housing. So we post the videos and drive traffic through social media."
    The channel launched with 300 videos and is now at 5,000 with just under 500,000 views. 

  • Best Buy's Geek Squad has been creating its own content for a few years now, according to Geek Squad's Paula Baldwin. Her title is telling: mistress of propaganda. "As a company, we began to get more serious about it roughly two years ago, creating editorial-style videos of our agents on-site at a variety of events," she said. These agent correspondence videos are aimed to bring viewers into the "Geek's" world and provide information and access they otherwise wouldn't have. Over the last year Geek Squad has begun producing tutorial videos on everything from computer support to iPods in cars to one on the DTV transition called "Two-Minute Miracles."

  • "For [Geek Squad], the move to create content was partly about filling the void left by the change in the media landscape," Ms. Baldwin said. "But it was also about filling a willingness we perceived in our customers for more access to Geek Squad's knowledge." 

  • MasterCard has also taken to the web with video interviews of its executives. Andrew Foote, senior VP in the digital media practice at WPP's Cohn & Wolfe, MasterCard's PR agency, said unlike three to five years ago when web content had to be polished and professionally produced, MasterCard has gone the low-production route. It's taping its executives using Flip video camcorders, editing the video on laptops and uploading them to YouTube.

  • "They're realizing they can comment on issues and get the points of view of their experts out there and on the record," Mr. Foote said. Once the videos are up, the company will often tweet the links and follow up with reporters letting them know MasterCard commented on the topic.

    "Sometimes those videos end up on the blogs of those publications and [it] leads to building online relationships with reporters, analysts and industry influencers," Mr. Foote said. He said MasterCard isn't "necessarily becoming less reliant" on mainstream media; the company just realizes it's not the only game in town, and, when speed is of the essence, creating its own content or relying on digital channels is the best approach.

    "Sometimes mainstream [media] can't keep up with the needs of the company to get stuff out," Mr. Foote said.

    Some marketers are going further, creating the communities in which they distribute that content. Renee Wilson, managing director, New York, of Publicis Groupe's MS&L, said her client Procter & Gamble's Rouge magazine is an example of how to circumvent the reporter. But for clients, including P&G, she said MS&L has been tapping into existing niche communities or creating communities from scratch that marketers can speak to. For Ferrero Rocher chocolates, the agency circulated content about the brand and new products through numerous online properties. 

    "Consumers still get brand information but it's not filtered by a reporter at a traditional publication," she said. For P&G's Oral-B Pulsonic, it formed a partnership with Elle/Hachette and created fashion content that was delivered to the consumer by Oral-B Pulsonic and hosted on And for SmartOnes, the agency created an online community for fans to share product info, rather than going the traditional food-media route.

    "Everyone is now looking at tapping the right communities or creating them," Ms. Wilson said.