First, they'll tell you the Census is coming. Then, they'll tell you why filling out and mailing back the forms is a good thing. Finally, if you've ignored the first two, they'll tell you to open your door to Census workers.
Today, the Census Bureau unveils a $133 million national advertising campaign that will debut at 9:15 p.m. ET Sunday during the Golden Globe Awards on NBC.
The campaign chiefly targets the 84% of the U.S. population that consumes English-language media, but ads on billboards, radio and TV and in magazines and newspapers will circulate in 27 other languages.
The first of five TV ads directed by actor/writer Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap,Best in Show) showcases Guest's signature style — using dry wit to showcase life's absurdities.
In the first ad airing Sunday, a film director played by Ed Begley Jr. announces with dramatic flourish his latest ambitious project: Creating a portrait of "every man, woman and child in this beautiful country of ours." The ad ends with two people whispering: "Isn't that what the Census is doing?"
The campaign will feature different themes, says Jeff Tarakajian, executive vice president at Draftfcb, the lead ad agency, which is working with subcontractors who specialize in specific ethnic groups.
One theme is "10 questions, 10 minutes" to highlight the ease of filling out the form.
Another ad will have a crowd cheering as someone walks to a mailbox to send in the form.
This spring, when Census workers start knocking on doors of people who did not respond to the mailing, ads will show doors opening on to schools, hospitals and other institutions that get funding based on Census counts.
The Census is used to allocate $435 billion a year in federal money to states and communities. The number of seats each state gets in the House of Representatives is adjusted every 10 years based on the Census, which is used to redraw political districts.
The campaign's goal is to get people to promptly fill out and return their Census forms. Every time the mail-back response rises 1 percentage point, the Census Bureau says, it saves $85 million because it doesn't have to follow up.
Despite the most ambitious outreach in Census history — including websites, blogs and social media such as Facebook and Twitter— several groups worry that not enough is being done to target traditionally hard-to-count groups.
"This kind of project is not the sale of soap or deodorant or fried chicken or hamburger," says Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League and chairman of the Census Advisory Committee. "It's civic engagement."