Obama administration pays $2.5 million for Census commercial

If readers plan to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday along with perhaps a billion people around the world, they may want to pay particular attention to the ad spot Americans bought with $2.5 million of their taxes.  The Census Bureau paid that much for a single 30-second spot, and plans to spend over $130 million in the next four months to make people aware of the official US survey:

Taxpayers might want to pay close attention to this Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast or they’ll miss Uncle Sam’s 30-second, $2.5-million reminder to stand up and be counted.

That’s what the Census Bureau paid CBS to get their message notched somewhere between a National Lampoon reprisal, a weird dude with big glasses, a beer-can house and men without pants.

And, that’s just a fraction of what the bureau plans to spend this year to get Americans to answer a simple, 10-question survey.

The bureau is spending $133 million between January and May — or, more than $13 million for each of 10 questions, one of which reads: What is your telephone number? — to publicize the national head-count. Part of that effort is the Super Bowl ad, which Kendall Johnson, a spokeswoman for the bureau, confirmed Wednesday to FoxNews.com cost $2.5 million to air. The ad, produced by actor and director Christopher Guest, also will appear in other media, Johnson said.

Christopher Guest?  Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of Guest’s, but for his mockumentaries, not for his advertising expertise.  This seems like a little bit of inadvertent irony — hiring a man who’s best known for satirical spoofs of indulgent earnestness (Best in Show, This is Spinal Tap, For Your Consideration, Waiting for Guffman) than in indulging in it himself.

There are a few questions here, starting with the budget of the overall ad campaign.  While we’re struggling with a moribund economy and spiraling federal debt, why are we spending nine figures on advertising the Census?  Maybe we should have reconsidered the overall budget in light of the massive debt we’re already accruing for efforts both more and less worthy.

Recalibrating the budget should also have meant reconsidering the Super Bowl ad.  It will run once and be quickly forgotten, if it’s seen much at all; later in a blowout, many people begin ignoring the game in favor of social events, or turn it off altogether.  How many local ad spots could have been purchased with that $2.5 million, where repeated showings would have more impact?  Super Bowl ads for commercial products might be justified with increased sales, but taxpayer money should be spent more wisely and less often, especially for advertising.

This looks more like a vanity project for an administration that needs an image boost.

Update: To give a sense of perspective, Pepsi has decided that Super Bowl advertising isn’t worth the cost.  And I’d daresay that more people enjoy Pepsi than a census.  (via HA commenter Knucklehead)