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Census's Super Bowl ad draws a flag from McCain

By Ed O'Keefe

A screengrab of the 30-second Census Bureau television ad that will air during Sunday's Super Bowl. (Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)

Updated 3:15 p.m.
You thought Tim Tebow's Super Bowl ad was the only one causing a stir? Think again.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has criticized the Census Bureau's decision to spend $2.5 million for a 30-second ad during Sunday's game. The spending decision, McCain argues, is "symptomatic of the spending practices of the federal government and the Congress in a way that is completely out of touch with what's going on out there in the real world."

McCain said Wednesday night, during an interview on Fox News Channel's "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren", that the ad buy is an example of "what feeds the tea parties. This is what feeds the anti-incumbency mood that's out there, an out-of-touch Congress and an out- of-touch administration."

McCain also Tweeted his concerns on Thursday: "While the census is very important to AZ, we shouldn’t be wasting $2.5 million taxpayer dollars to compete with ads for Doritos!"

The Census Bureau said that its deal with CBS, which will broadcast the game, includes not only the 30-second ad during the third quarter, but some "added value" in a special arrangement with the network: two 30-second spots during the pregame show and two or three live, explicit on-air mentions of the 2010 Census by CBS Sports pregame show anchor James Brown.

"We think this is a pretty good deal for the taxpayers," said Steven J. Jost, the Census Bureau's associate director for communications.

Last year's Super Bowl was seen by 98.7 million people, and Sunday's audience are expected to be consistent with the record ratings for this year's AFC and NFC Championship games.

The ads are part of the Census Bureau's multimillion-dollar advertising and outreach campaign, launched last month, which includes a mix of television, radio, print and Web advertisements.

The ad airing during the game was directed by Christopher Guest and stars Ed Begley Jr. and other alums of Guest's cult-classic films, such as "A Mighty Wind," "Best in Show" and "For Your Consideration."

Officials said Thursday morning that they did not know the total cost of producing the ad, saying that it was part of a four-day shoot for five different 30-second spots and a mock "behind-the-scenes" video intended for online audiences and currently showing on YouTube.

The agency defended the Super Bowl spot Wednesday night on its blog after receiving questions from other news outlets.

"The first goal of our promotion efforts is to raise awareness of the when and how the Census works," the agency said. "We have a very limited window of opportunity to achieve our goals Jan. to April, and therefore need programming that delivers high ratings. We did not choose the Super Bowl at the expense of some other programming. We went where the audience was to be found, as part of a package with CBS."

The Census Bureau added, "The Super Bowl is rare, in that viewers are just as tuned in to see the commercials as the program itself. Commercials that air on the Super Bowl have a multiplier effect. Advertisers are mentioned in multiple news media outlets and viewers will typically look to view them online almost immediately after airing. Therefore, airing once in the Super Bowl creates significant buzz leading to additional viewing potential."

Thoughts? Leave them in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 4, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Census  
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Nothing wrong with a census ad during the Super Bowl. Sheesh.

Posted by: MrsKirby | February 4, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

why are you reporting on what a GOPer says on a conservative tv show? can't you get off your butt and write about something like, i don't know...maybe the facts of the situation? why do we constantly hear the GOP side, but not the Dem side in this paper? like one wapo reporter cancelling his turn on the Pol chat cause he had to cover a story from the conservative washington times about WH visitors, which of course did not mention how Cheney is still fighting in court to keep his visitor logs secret. If I want to see what the GOP is spewing, I'll go to Townhall, but I come to wapo expecting unbiased, fact filled NEWS, not political talking points that aren't fact checked. more media driven controversy with media driven polls to follow. what a vicious cycle!!!

Posted by: katem1 | February 4, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Wasn’t the 2010 census budget—including advertising allotment—set by Congress in 2006? Wasn’t that under the Bush administration, and I believe a Republican led House and Senate. How did McLame vote then?

Posted by: whatitdo | February 4, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

This is all too amusing. Note the Senator's concern, that this is the kind of thing that provokes those tea parties. But all too many of those in that movement decry the census altogether, citing a bullying government, intruding on the privacy of individuals, asking indiscreet questions. In a word, it doesn't matter to the tea folks that there are ads for or about the government--they hate the government in all its forms(except, well, in the States)
As an ex employee for the US Government Printing Office, I would have loved to have had that advertizing budget that Census has--we at the Sales/Bookstore Branch would still be in business, maybe.
But the same fears that Sen McCain has were there on the Joint Committee on Printing.

Posted by: rburnett1 | February 4, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Does McCain also object to the cost of the dozens of ads for the military? And if not, doesn't that make him a hypocrite? Oh, wait - I forgot who we were talking about.

Posted by: truamerican | February 4, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Looks like they had the desired affect. An article in Post. Sounds like they are getting their money's worth.

Most SuperBowl ads work for their buyers. Whether you like the commercial or not they typically are very effective at hitting their audience.

The census obviously has an advertising budget and spending it on a single national buy probably made as much or more sense that thousands of smaller local buys.

Posted by: wleeper | February 4, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

They have an advertising budget, they are advertising in a place everyone agrees is a VERY effective place to advertise. WHATS the problem. No, John McCain this is silly anti-government crap. Then bar them from advertising--take away their budget. BUT what is good for the goose is good for the gander--all advertining must go, say, the Army Stong Campaign. Government has things to do in the 21st century and needs to advertise.

Posted by: tazgn | February 4, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I'm kind of ambivalent about the ad buy but I wonder if most of those watching don't already know about the upcoming census.

Posted by: spamsux1 | February 4, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

It is hard to express how much John McCain has worn out his welcome with people who were once sympathetic and admiring of his character and leadership qualities despite our policy differences. This is such a deliberately ignorant, know-nothing position.

It's the job of the Census to reach out through every possible means to let Americans know how important it is to reply. The cost savings of driving up mailed-in response rates is tremendous. The more that people simply respond when first contacted, the fewer must be followed by in-person contacts that are expensive and often repetitive. Multiply that by the entire population of the United States and response rates are a huge cost (or savings) driver.

On top of that, groups that nonetheless still are underreported will suffer and groups that are overreported (including whole states and regions) will unfairly benefit. Every public servant, even a permanently angry Senator who lost a presidential election, should be urging participation in and publicity for the Census. It's a cornerstone of nearly all of our governmental (as opposed to political) functions.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | February 4, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

In this time when federal government spending is projected to leave the galaxy, exactly why do we need to advertise for the census, at all, if not for political purposes? There are better ways to spend the $2.5M for the ad spot, as well as the production costs of making the ad. Any such public notifications about the census should only be provided via FCC mandated public service announcements. And if those cannot be accommodated during the Super Bowl, so what?

Posted by: WHOANELLY | February 4, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

If John McCain so much as burps, it is headline news in the Washington Post. Lazy reporters, reporting about a lazy politician.

Posted by: gmcduluth | February 4, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Spamsux - of course "most" of those watching know about the census, but the census is supposed to count "all" people. This is all the more so because conservatives banned the census from making any statistical corrections due to people were missed.

By the way, the census is hiring so if anyone here needs a temporary job it might be worth contacting them.

Anyway, if John McCain doesn't believe TV ads work why did he and the RNC spend about a 100 million dollars on them last year? There's no difference between buying one ad for $2.5 million that many people see or thousands of ads on an obscure channel that very few people see individually.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | February 4, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Jeez, will you people in Arizona either tell pollsters that McCain will be re-elected in a walk, or that you all want him out.

Having this close election just inflicts more of John McCain, and his variable moral sense -- and mouth -- on the rest of the nation, who had enough of him in 2008 (and 2004, and 2000).

Posted by: 1EgoNemo | February 4, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Only the neocons and Al Sharpton would attack the census!!!!


Posted by: bs2004 | February 4, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

McCain has been and always will be the darling of the legacy media, which is fundamentally conflict/controversy driven. McCain can be relied to reflexively oppose anything and everything the administration does and make some wiseass comment. In many cases this might contradict what he said a couple years ago. Great! Fills up another column with newsprint.

Posted by: philogratis | February 4, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

McCain and the Tea Baggers' only fear is that the ads will result in counting more people with brown or black skin or who do not speak English as their primary language.

BTW, what do the Tea Baggers think of farm welfare?

Posted by: Garak | February 4, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

If the census ad campaign can convince a few percentage points of Americans to fill out their census forms when they come in the mail, rather than waiting for a census employee to come knocking on their door, they should save the taxpayers quite a bit of money. It's that door to door stuff which really chews up a lot of money.

Posted by: philogratis | February 4, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

The Census Bureau estimates that for each 1% of the US population who mails back their form, taxpayers save $80-$90 million. I am surprised that you chose not to include this figure in your story.

Posted by: Tremontaine | February 4, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Are you kidding me? Let Tebow air his ad. Let the government spread the word about the Census, which only serves to help more fully fulfill our governments duty to do it.

People just want to fight about silly nonsense. Daily. Topic notwithstanding.

Posted by: trident420 | February 4, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Well WHOANELLY if the Census had not produced the ad then all those folks that work in ad agencies would be unemployed, then your panties would up your bunghole about how more people are unemployed.

Posted by: vmrg1974 | February 4, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

If the Census didn’t run an ad on the Super Bowl, the Right would probably criticize them for not using a really efficient vehicle to reach a huge chunk of the population. You can’t win.

Posted by: pruitt34 | February 4, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

The Census spot for the Super Bowl is a Public Service Announcement and CBS should donate the time as such.

Posted by: athradio | February 4, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, does John McCain have nothing left to do but sit around talking to himself? It's the SUPER BOWL, the people watch the the SUPER BOWL would seem to be the very people that NEED to respond to the Census. In recognition of all that is holy GOP, stop with this crap. Let something slide.

Posted by: gleslie60 | February 4, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Wake up people. The spending process of this administration is totally unreal. We are broke, don't you get it? The message is out and to spend millions on an ad is wreckless. Your children and grandchildren will be paying for this and it will be too late to change your mind.

Posted by: MOMLEE | February 4, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like the Census folks cut an incredibly shrewd and good deal. Heck, they even seem to have behaved like private industry...negotiating a very good bang for the buck. You'd think Republicans might like that! (Oh, I forgot, they reject out of hand anything that this administration does... So refreshing...)

Posted by: ihill1 | February 4, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Aren't citizens required by law to answer the census? This being the case, isn't this something like running an ad telling people about jury duty?

Posted by: andrew23boyle | February 4, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Oh, McCain, McCain. What is happening to you? You are beginning to sound like a nagging, nagging, cantankerous old man....oops, you are.

Posted by: Aquarius1 | February 4, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Boy, can anyone count in D.C? $1.3 trillion deficit budget proposed. Hello!!!

Our deficit is so large that it now poses a national security threat vis a vi complete and total bankruptcy of the government, or negative influences on our policy decisions by foreign countries that hold massive amounts of our debt.

I think these yahoos are way out of touch and McCain is onto something.

Posted by: brownie101 | February 4, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Another stupid comment from the "hero" who bombed women and children in Vietnam and got his $10M plane shot down. Must we keep hearing from this loser?

Posted by: wrightearle | February 4, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

So, did McCain take time off from shouting at kids to get off his lawn to fire off this latest phoney homage to concern for how our money is spent? I'm just ask'in

Posted by: lawofficemail | February 4, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

truamerican posted: Does McCain also object to the cost of the dozens of ads for the military? And if not, doesn't that make him a hypocrite? Oh, wait - I forgot who we were talking about.
Exactly. And where was McCain's complaint when the military started sponsoring NASCAR drivers/teams about 5 years ago? That's about $1M per season each (there are at least 3). That $ could create lots of jobs instead of lining the pockets of a few wealthy race car owners.

Posted by: jgmann | February 4, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

This is another stupid use of the taxpayers' money. Another example of stupidity on the part of those in power.
Look at the post office- they are deep in debt and continue to air ads during big games andparades. Talk about a drain on brain power!!!

Posted by: djnumerouno | February 4, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

indeed... a more targeted campaign during the annual Hee Haw marathon on Nick would reach the intended audience and save money.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | February 4, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

It is amazing how many comments are in reference to the source of the criticism (McCain) without making any attempt to understand the substance of his comments. The United States Government is on the verge of having its credit rating reduced because it cannot manage its spending and its debt. McCain's comments are not about the Census (although I would certainly like to know how the Census calculates $80-90million dollars saved for every 1% of the population who mail back their form.. one more non-verifiable govt claim.

Posted by: msteen | February 4, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

perhaps John McCain should think of it as a job stimulus package.
Can the Census Bureau help it if the only time citizens and non-citizens alike are focussed happens in a football contest. One picture is worth a thousand words. It's also an educational tool.
Get over it!

Posted by: jzt1coxnet | February 4, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

How did Sen McCain vote in 2006 when the budget for the census was determined? It's too late to lay the blame on the congress of 2010.

Posted by: flea31s | February 4, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

It's true that criticizing a few million spent on a Super Bowl commercial seems so trivial.

On the other hand, why are the Democrats getting involved in how the BCS determines which college football teams get to play for the national championship?

McCain, at least, is addressing a small part of a huge problem. The Dems are not.

Posted by: JBaustian | February 4, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

When I took a course in advertising, I learned that the most effective (and inexpensive) form of advertising is direct mail. Do you know how little it would cost to send a letter to each HOUSEHOLD (NOT person) in America if you want to tell them something? For nursing homes and homeless shelters, a single letter posted on the bulletin boards of these residences would suffice.

Why on earth then - with the economy of America being what it is today - is some FOOL spending an additional $2.5 million dollars of tax payer dollars? I don't care what Party and under whose Administration money may have been allocated for this type advertising. God gave us all a brain for a think; to be creative; to be reasonable with our finances when we don't have those finances to spend.

Sheesh, people! Look at the Big Picture and stop with the GOP and Democrats and Bush and Obama crap. WE DON'T HAVE THIS MONEY TO SPEND! That's the bottom line. So if we don't have it, we should find another way to alert people about the direct mail for less than $1 per (counting postage, stationary, and manual labor).

It's no wonder the Country's in the shape it's in today!!!!

Posted by: iejanette | February 4, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

It's true that criticizing a few million spent on a Super Bowl commercial seems so trivial.

On the other hand, why are the Democrats getting involved in how the BCS determines which college football teams get to play for the national championship?

McCain, at least, is addressing a small part of a huge problem. The Dems are not.

Posted by: JBaustian | February 4, 2010 4:34 PM
Well seeing as how the BCS is a multibillion dollar monopoly and there are litterally millions of dollars on the line why shouldn't Congress get involved? Don't they get involve when other mutli billion dollar corporations make rules or use loop holes to stiffle competition? If my college finishes the season undefeated multiple times and still don't get an opportunity to play for the BCS championship which translates into millions of dollars for the school through pay out from the game and secondary money through a rise in profile then why wouldn't lawmakers look into it?

Posted by: 6thsense79 | February 4, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I am a conservative GOP card carrying member.. and I really don't see the issue with the ad. It reaches a HUGE audience and is most likely cheaper than trying to reach that many people separately with a message. Seems like a good ad buy with a captive audience.

However I do believe that Congress has no reason to get involved with the BCS. With everything going on in the country they need to be more focused on real issues. Trying to change college football because a senators team wasn't in the chanpionship game ( and wouldn't have stood a chance in hell of winning )seems trivial. Leave college football to the colleges.

Posted by: tbastian | February 4, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Bringing attention to the Census is a great choice. Increasing returns will save the taxpayer millions.

Posted by: DonGustafson | February 4, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Can anyone tell us why we need to buy ads to promote the census when it is the law? Tell us please what the savings projections are? The comments are a real tell on who reads the Post. Sad.

Posted by: vitaglubet | February 4, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I am more saddened about people who seem to be so full of anger and hate that they must disparage and in some cases, slander "bloggers". The topic seems to be immaterial. "Stupid", "moron" are the polite words used; fortunately responsible media like the Washington Post, the Times, etc. won't allow obscenities. Comments could certainly be improved and perhaps more thoughtful if the writers were required to use their given names. But anonymity has always been the mantle of cowards.

Posted by: jmhfnr | February 4, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

The Senator could care less about the groups who are often afraid to answer the door and take the census questionnaire. Senator McCain is a typical old white guy of the Party that only has 4 or 5 women and certainly no African-Americans. Do they have any Hispanics? Asian Americans?
McCain is not a very nice guy. He's a selfish, self-centered guy who showed us really what he thinks about National Security by his off the cuff, half butted pick of Sarah Palin for Vice President. When he speaks even a single word now on National Security, we should always ask him: Looking back, are you glad you picked Mrs. Ding A Ling from Americans.

Posted by: zennheadd | February 4, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Question: Why do we need an ad for the census??????
Are we as a nation too stupid and lazy to know the census is coming.
$2.5 million for a census ad -- give me a break - do you actually believe this will convince illegals to be more available!!
No wonder our leaders are not trusted.

Posted by: rptm | February 4, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Have you all lost your minds???Spending 2.5 million on the 2010 Census ad is horrible. Just think what could be done with that money or how we could pay by some of what we owe Chinaf or Japan or how it could go towards Medicare. This Obama idol that all of you seem can do no wrong is slowly destroying the American people & our way of life. He cannot keep spending money like it grows on trees. What was his excuse about something being sneaked into the bill the other day without his knowledge, well he has the power to sneak it right back out again & he knows full & well who did it, but none other then the evil witch Pelosi.

Posted by: egw7777 | February 4, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Sounds to me like someone has wee bit too much spare time on their hands!


Posted by: clermontpc | February 4, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like Old man McCain has finally gone senile. Just give him a bag of chips and don't let him touch the remote control. The rest of us will be watching the game!

Posted by: free-donny | February 4, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: lengyson1 | February 5, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

N.F.L. ""Nationalistic"" ""Failure"" ""Leadership""....Like the Colts and their lucs Oil Stadium they make millions a year...but decided to go the rout of nationalist democrats pre world war two Hitler screw balls and force the people to pay two times for that stinking stadium they could have bought and paid for and maintained it all privately they raised taxes just to pay for it. Hurting small company the same time they follow Nationalistic democrat Obama a Remo emnalue and I.U. Sports the supporters of Acorn the under age child sex trade ring. I.U. Sport of Bloomington Indiana did the same kind of crap as jobs get hard to find an companies are leaving left and right the mayor of Bloomington Indiana last summer help to nationalize a city now government small sport plex and baseball private owned park to the tune of 6,000,000 as they coaches of I.u. get paid the same amount. And they wonder why smaller private companies are not on the rise. It’s because of Obama I am praying he fails nationalistic democrats. Note History Taxes was to be Voluntary and debts of bank were to be cleared every seven years. that all changed in the 1910"s,20"s,30"s by the nationalistic democrats of the pre-Hitler move-ment in the united states and one thing the views of voluntary taxes and debts clearing every 7 years they understood money was worthless like foot balls and asto turf you cannot eat it those views .. Were our nations Jewish Hebrew roots... Watch the movie "Unforgotten Twenty five years after Willow brook" With "Geraldo Rivera... and you will see that as up to 1972 what the standard view of the nationalistic Democrat Views of Health care did not end of taken care of those with Developmental Disabilities. Even after the trails of Nuremberg Germany of doctors that would have supported abortion. and acted like the colts an i.u. sports nationalize 6,000,000 but would not stop long enough as leaders like Rome Emanuel and his f77K retard statements to make sure places like stone belt and not for profit place that takes care the disabled that is underfunded 70,000 because of nationalism and to think I.U. was at one time was one of the safe havens for the Hitler nationalistic democrat nuts ball that ran places like Willow brook. Bruce Anderson Face Book

I will never watch another game very bad leadership

Posted by: WindSong | February 5, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Good job Mr. Mcain, I know he understands faith and I know he used foot ball to help save his life when he was a P.O.W., Good rebuke Psalms 27. 5 & Matthew 18:15. great use of freedom of press an Speech Sir, Gods Blessing be with you Sir In yeshua's Name Amen

Posted by: WindSong | February 5, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Can anyone remember anything that Sen. McCain has been FOR since Pres. Obama has been elected? I think the "maverick" has been tamed. He seems to get his position papers from DeLay, Armey and the Teabaggers.

Does anyone know if he plans to attend the Teabagger convention to listen to his former running mate?

I know he's got a primary challenge coming from an even more reactionary candidate this fall, so he's been heavily tacking to starboard. Probably not the best metaphor to use in the desert.

Like Fairfax, he's rapidly losing the respect of a lot of us who once thought he had some integrity. And, for that matter, why is he even running again? Just because he's older than most of the sand in Arizona?

Posted by: bulldog6 | February 5, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Tremontaine says:
"The Census Bureau estimates that for each 1% of the US population who mails back their form, taxpayers save $80-$90 million. I am surprised that you chose not to include this figure in your story."

So if only 20% (60 million) of Americans mail back the forms taxpayers save quadrillions of dollars.

Posted by: spamsux1 | February 5, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

This is a bit of a question and a bit of a statement if the question is answered in the positive. Isn't about 85% of the value of CBS listed a goodwill and doesn't that goodwill exist because CBS along with ABC and NBC have leased airwaves that belong to the citizens of the US? If this is true or somewhat true why don't they show us citizens some goodwill and if they don't maybe we should take a stronger look as to how they use our goodwill.

Posted by: dwalcott | February 5, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Morons, we have a bunch of morons up there. Ten percent plus unemployment, and endless corruption of our political process by unions PACs, BIG industry, "special" interest groups, vote-selling politicians, and we blow millions to advertise for what? The CENSUS??? We've been doing that every 10 years for a number of years, haven't we? I have a copy of the 1900 census for my great-grandparents! This must be more of the "hopie-changey" thing. Washington is corrupt to the core. Party means nothing. Things have GOT to change.

Posted by: Fallguy1 | February 8, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Wake-up People... The Gov't has a duty to represent "We the People" not "We the Gov't" The census can receive all the free publicity it needs on the daily news cast. Follow the money... "We the Gov't" is spending us into oblivion! Where is the return on the “Peoples" money?

Posted by: norsell01 | February 9, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

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