At the start of the 2020 Census season, New York City was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, which upended Census outreach plans and required a monumental shift in strategy. To make matters worse, the Trump administration aggressively attempted to suppress census participation in immigrant-friendly cities and succeeded in shutting down the census count two weeks early.
Beyond the political climate and citywide quarantine, our community still faced the most common barriers to census participation. These included a lack of census knowledge, privacy concerns, fear of repercussions, and general distrust of government. Organizations around the city were looking for ways to mass communicate Census information with New Yorkers from a distance in order to overcome these complex attitudes and barriers towards Census participation.
Impact Artist Network
By working with local community and ethnic media, government agencies, nonprofit service providers, advocacy groups, New York-based food manufacturers and local artists we were able to distribute Census messaging to every block of New York City. Three separate campaigns focused on vulnerable audiences that were most prone to being undercounted: families with young children, low-income communities, and a general audience of New Yorkers dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To reach families with young children under five, F.Y. Eye teamed up with Sesame Workshop, the New York City Department of Sanitation and NYC Census 2020, to produce an ad campaign featuring Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch encouraging residents to “Make your family count—even the grouches!” Print posters displayed on 2,500 sanitation trucks and mechanical brooms that provide services to every NYC neighborhood. At a time when subway and bus ridership was down more than 50 percent, this strategy worked to be an effective and safe way to reach New Yorkers socially distancing at home.
The second initiative targeted a broad population of residents at home doing a quintessential New York activity—ordering Chinese food takeout and delivery. F.Y. Eye engaged with Wonton Food and the Manhattan Borough President’s Office to distribute thirteen million special edition fortune cookies with Census messaging in English, Spanish and Chinese throughout the metro area. The slogans printed in the cookies, including “Don’t Count Calories, Be Counted. Census 2020,” and “Eat me. Then be counted. Take the 2020 Census,” came from the winning submissions to F.Y. Eye’s Get-Out-the-Count Census slogan contest.
In the final month of the 2020 Census, a third campaign leveraged the power of art and community to motivate New Yorkers in low-income neighborhoods to participate. F.Y. Eye partnered with Creative Action Network as well as our PSA Network hosts to distribute posters and postcards in emergency food packages. The poster and postcard graphic PSAs were crowdsourced through F.Y. Eye’s 2020 Civic Art Challenge and included designs created by members of the Impact Artist Network. Action-oriented messages were delivered directly to New Yorkers in need frequenting local food pantries at African Services Committee, Center for Family Life, Commonpoint Queens Community Center, Queens Community House and West Side Campaign Against Hunger. The campaign served as a final reminder that the Census was a way to secure much-needed federal funding to support public and nonprofit safety net programs.
F.Y. Eye’s innovative advertising solutions reached New Yorkers citywide and generated much-needed motivational buzz around the 2020 Census.
The campaigns gained notable media coverage from the likes of:
The self-response rate for New York City residents was nearly the same as 2010 at 61.8%, but came amid a plethora of complicating factors that made the census count the most challenging it has been in decades. Even more impressive, New York City achieved a higher self-response rate than that of most demographically-similar cities in the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, and Dallas, among others.