Government Uses Promotional Products for Census

The 10-question U.S. Census form will arrive next week in the nation’s mailboxes, but for those it doesn’t reach, Uncle Sam is using advertising and promotional products to increase participation.

“They’ve been a great lure to get people to come talk to us at events and find out more information about the census,” says Joy Brandon, media specialist for the Dallas Regional Census Center. “It’s been amazing to me how people want these items.”

Promotional products with the census logo used by the agency include backpacks, tote bags, coffee mugs, rulers, church fans, luggage tags, pens and pencils, chip clips, magnetic picture frames, polo shirts and miniature basketballs for children, Brandon says.

In addition to events, products are getting out to people by way of census buses that are traveling the country. People who tour the bus get promotional products-but only after they’ve taken the tour, Brandon says.

“The products give us the opportunity to get them in, get them closer to us and answer their questions,” she says.

In one recent contract, nearly $10 million was spent by the Census Bureau on a canvas tote bag promotion filled with census-logoed promotional products including water bottles, toy footballs, mouse pads, paperclips, pencils, luggage tags and key chains.

The items are designed to improve outreach. The Census Bureau says that for every one percent increase in mail response it will save taxpayers $85 million in costs, primarily from hired temporary employees collecting the information in door-to-door interviews.

In addition to direct Census Bureau spending, more than 200,000 partners have signed on to help promote the 2010 Census. These community-based organizations, including churches, neighborhood associations and service clubs, have received federal grant money to purchase promotional items with the census logo to help reach their constituents.

The business has been a boon for struggling companies in the promotional products business. For example, Albany, New York, distributor Absolute Promotions Inc. (UPIC: absolute) received several thousand dollars in sales of promotional items from four nonprofit organizations that received grants to canvas neighborhoods and hold events using promotional products, says Christine Piel, owner of Absolute.

Absolute delivered four-color self-adhesive notes, pens, organic totes and mints in tins with the census logo imprinted on them, Piel says.

Two of Absolute’s contracts were with the NAACP and the Korean American Family Center, she says. These organizations go door-to-door in neighborhoods looking for new people or new citizens who didn’t get the form or didn’t fill it out.

“When they canvas the neighborhoods, they can hand the products out and the information will stay over,” Piel says.

Other uses of promotional products include a Seattle fortune cookie maker who added a promotional message on one side of the paper insert in the cookies and paper plates imprinted with the census logo used by mobile taco stands in Los Angeles.

The Census Bureau launched its first paid advertising campaign for the 2000 Census when participation rates were slipping, according to Census officials.

Census data are used to apportion congressional seats to states, to distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds to tribal, state and local governments each year and to make decisions about what community services to provide. 

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