Adapting a National Campaign Around the Unprecedented

  • U.S. Census Bureau


How do you motivate the entire country to do the same thing? Especially when that country is the United States in 2020.

For the first time, everyone in the United States was able to respond to the U.S. Census online instead of just the traditional paper form. But, while it was going to be easier than ever to respond, the government faced an uphill battle in terms of knowledge of the census and trust in the Census Bureau – and add to that the “2020” of it all.

We can’t understate the levels of government distrust we faced, which does not exactly inspire people to share their private information. That distrust was then multiplied by growing social unrest, devastating fires and earthquakes, and the relentless, brutal tenor of the presidential primary. Oh, and a new disease called “COVID-19.”

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As the pandemic upended life as we know it, constant optimization enabled fluid adjustments to both the paid and non-paid media plans to keep the count on track.

In just three months—a fraction of the time we had to originally plan the work— we replanned the campaign to:

  • Capture the pandemic environment with sensitivity, scrapping work produced in 2019 and employing new production methods to depict our new normal with grace
  • Adjust media weights to support the operation’s extension through October
  • Integrate frontline workers and teachers into our content to celebrate these heroes and associate the Census with hope
  • Reassure the public that Census Takers would conduct the count safely, so there should be nothing in the way of their vital participation
  • Incorporate COVID-ready tactics, such as pizza delivery boxes—a first for the government!—and digital out-of-home in grocery stores
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Through these pivots and more, we ended up actually strengthening the campaign—reinforcing that the power rests in all of our hands to help our communities recover stronger

In the end, not even the year that was 2020 could get in our way of making everyone count:

  • Despite unprecedented social and natural challenges, the 2020 Census received 99 million self-responses—exceeding both the 2020 self-response goal and the final count achieved in the 2010 Census.
  • Of those, over 79 million responded by internet, far out-weighing phone and mail responses, greatly bolstering the count’s overall efficiency.
  • In the end, 99.98% of U.S. Households were counted, demonstrating the dogged effectiveness of the campaign in driving the public’s cooperation with the Census Bureau.

Industry Awards and Recognition

Data Innovation; Social Responsibility; Government, Public Service, and Nonprofit; Grand Ogilvy: ARF David Ogilvy Awards 2021

GOLD, Government & Public Service: Effie Awards, United States 2021

BRONZE, National Strategy: 4A's Jay Chiat Awards

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