If only the federal government were as responsible with our money as Pepsi is with theirs. The soda giant has been in the Super Bowl ad business for more than two decades. But this year, Pepsi determined it was economically unwise to pay $3 million for a 30-second spot. So, who's foolish enough to pay for Super Bowl gold-plated airtime? You and me and Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Census Bureau will squander $2.5 million on a half-minute Super Bowl ad starring D-list celebrity Ed Begley Jr., plus two pre-game blurbs and 12-second "vignettes" featuring Super Bowl anchor James Brown. It's a drop in the census boondoggle bucket (otherwise known as the tax-subsidized National Democratic Future Voter Outreach Drive).
The Obama White House has allocated a total of $340 million toward an "unprecedented" promotional blitz for the 2010 census. That's on top of $1 billion in stimulus money siphoned off for increased census "public outreach" and staffing. In all, the census will triple its total 2000 budget to $15 billion.
Ads pimping the census have already appeared during the Golden Globe awards and will broadcast during the Daytona 500 and NCAA Final Four championships. Some $80 million will be poured into multilingual ads in 28 languages from Arabic to Yiddish. Racial and ethnic groups have been squabbling over their share of the pie.
The U.S. census is a decennial census mandated by our Constitution. Should Americans know about it? Sure. Should the P.R. budget become a bottomless slush fund in recessionary times? Surely not.
Yet, no matter how you translate it, the census commercials to date have been an "Ishtar"-style flop. Global ad agency Draftfcb, based in (Obama's hometown) Chicago and New York, nabbed a $200 million four-year contract to oversee the Census Bureau's direct marketing, online and offline general market media strategies. The agency hired comedian Christopher Guest to direct "viral" spots. One of the supposedly "humor-driven" videos directed by Guest and commissioned by Draftfcb was uploaded to YouTube a few weeks ago. It has racked up a measly 6,880 views.