Officials in Mississippi have scrambled to edit a public service announcement about the 2020 U.S. Census that led viewers to an incorrect website.
The Census Bureau notified Mississippi officials on Monday with their concerns that the ad could confuse people on what they should expect in the mail.
In the 30-second spot, actor Morgan Freeman holds a postcard with a QR code.
“It’s one of the most important things you’ll ever find in your mailbox,” he says, before urging residents to fill out their census forms so Mississippi can unlock federal funds that are dispersed based on census results.
Starting this week, the U.S. Census Bureau is mailing out initial notices inviting people to participate in the census. The notices aren’t post cards, though; they are blue, letter-length papers with ID numbers printed in a box and the signature of Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham. And they don’t feature QR codes, images that can be scanned with a smart phone to take someone to a website.
Postcards will be sent out later this month to remind people to fill out the form, but those won’t have QR codes either.
Mississippi officials say the mistake was an honest one and that the ad has been edited to make the QR code unreadable.
“There was a good-faith effort to have Morgan Freeman, a trusted voice, say the census is important, and that shouldn’t get lost in the story,” said John Green, vice chairman of the Mississippi Complete Count Committee, which is leading census outreach efforts in the state.
The spot was produced by The Focus Group, a Mississippi-based marketing and advertising firm. It began running online and on TV earlier this month. Focus Group CEO Allison Buchanan wouldn’t say exactly where the postcard Freeman holds came from, but she said it was from “Census Bureau documents that we had researched.”
“The point of the commercial is they are getting something in the mail that they can use to fill out their census forms,” Buchanan said.
Freeman, an Academy Award-winning actor, has owned businesses and lived in the Mississippi Delta. A publicist didn’t immediately respond to an email inquiry on Wednesday.