How StatsCan tried to make you 'Take A Minute' and fill in your census through music playlists

·3 min read
The cover of a questionnaire request sent by Statistics Canada is seen in a photo illustration. The agency hoped to entice people to fill out this year's census with a series of music playlists. (Chris Helgren/Reuters - image credit)
The cover of a questionnaire request sent by Statistics Canada is seen in a photo illustration. The agency hoped to entice people to fill out this year's census with a series of music playlists. (Chris Helgren/Reuters - image credit)

Statistics Canada took a novel approach in encouraging Canadians to fill out this year's census — or maybe that should be an album approach.

The department created a series of playlists featuring Canadian artists with titles like Voices of the North, Friday night kitchen party and True North rap on Spotify and YouTube.

According to documents released through Access to Information legislation, the project was part of a larger campaign to build a relationship between the census program and individuals that are typically harder to reach or count.

All of them were designed, in the words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, to make sure Canadians were Takin' Care of Business and filling in the agency's most important document.

LISTEN| One of the playlists created for the 2021 Census

Building a relationship

Every census in Canada is important. The data provides the federal government with the most accurate Photograph (by Nickelback) of who Canadians are, where they live and what they do.

That's why individuals are legally required to complete the census.

So why try to build a connection when individuals are legally required to complete it? Geoff Bowlby, director general of Statistics Canada's 2021 census, says it's simple.

"We know that it is a burden upon Canadians to respond to the census, that it takes their time," he said.

"So we're always trying to connect with them and make sure that it's as easy for them to respond as possible and is enjoyable an experience as possible to Canadians."

Rachel Cave/CBC
Rachel Cave/CBC

The decennial census, carried out every 10 years and required by Canada's Constitution, is especially important. Data collected during those are used to define the boundaries of political ridings and to help determine where money is allocated by the federal government.

This year's census is decennial. But it also arrived relatively soon after the 2016 census, which featured the return of the long-form census.

"There's a need to build a brand that is not dependent on a big event to build excitement," a deck on a Statistics Canada PowerPoint presentation reads.

"How can we recreate this magic for the 2021 census?"

LISTEN| One of the playlists created for the 2021 Census

Demographic-targeted music

One of the methods Statistics Canada landed on was Census Soundtracks.

The playlists would highlight Canadian musicians and target different demographics such as Baby Boomers, Francophones, Gen-Z or Indigenous individuals.

It wasn't supposed to be Complicated (by Avril Lavigne), Canadians were encouraged to Take a Minute (by K'naan) to listen to the music as they completed the census.

The playlists would then have the added bonus of being easily shared through social media, according to the internal documents.

The criteria for songs included:

  • Performed by Canadian artists.

  • Reflective of Canadian culture and diversity.

  • No controversial or derogatory subject matter.

  • Non-partisan.

  • No explicit lyrics.

There was not a large cost associated with creating the playlists: a six-month Spotify Premium subscription for $55.94 plus taxes. Statistics Canada already had an existing YouTube channel.

Salaried time spent on the project added up to about $770.

Bowlby says Statistics Canada will review the playlist program before they decide to include it as part of their plan for the 2025 census.

He said that, anecdotally, they received a good response.

"It really didn't cost much and it was a win for the taxpayer as well because it got that advertising, that word [of mouth] that's important to get ... that Canadians are aware that the census is underway in an affordable way," Bowlby said.

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