Longtime devotees of The New York Times read the publication for “all the news that’s fit to print.” But the company behind the outlet’s headlines wants to strike a deeper chord with readers both current and potential.
The Times will run a new TV commercial this Sunday during NBC’s Golden Globes broadcast that highlights its recent spate of scoops in the area of sexual harassment. For months, the Times has unveiled shocking allegations against luminaries such as Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly, and the coverage has helped to spur investigations of other famous people, part of a larger movement that seeks to stop harassment in industries where it has historically been tolerated and even quietly ignored. NBC’s Globes broadcast seems tailor-made for such a pitch as the entertainment and media industries have been under a microscope while revelations have swirled around producers, actors and TV-news journalists.
While The Times is proud of its journalism, it also wants to use its recent achievements to spark a different sort of movement. “The essential problem our marketing is trying to solve is that the news is a high-involvement, high-interest category, but most people in this country don’t pay for it,” said David Rubin, senior vice president and head of brand for The New York Times, in an interview. “Most people are getting their product for free. Our job is to get more people to see they need to pay for it directly.”
The new ad surfaced first on NBC’s Friday broadcast of “Megyn Kelly Today,” during which the host interviewed two Times journalists involved in recent stories about harassment, Emily Steel and Meghan Twohey.
For the past year, The Times has been acting as if it were a different kind of advertiser. Newspaper companies for decades typically relied on direct-response commercials to solicit people to buy subscriptions. The brand-building, as it were, came through the daily (now hourly or minute-by-minute) dissemination of news product. Rubin acknowledges The Times is hardly Procter & Gamble or Apple, two companies that sink hundreds of millions of dollars into TV advertising every year. But, he adds, his company can use TV commercials in strategic fashion.
“We have our share of sales and immediate offers,” says Rubin. “The big task is to get more people interested in paying for the news, and paying for our news.” TV ads can make an impression when placed in broadcasts centered around topics related to big stories where Times journalism has dominated, he suggested. “We are not the largest spender on television,” he added. When the company does choose to run a TV ad, he said, it would be related “to a thing people really care about and we’ve often had a role in their caring about it.”
The key to New York Times Co.’s recent financial health has been subscriptions to its digital products. The company boasted approximately 2.49 million paid digital-only subscriptions at the end of the third quarter of 2017, representing a 59.1 % percent increase compared with the year-earlier period. But that was accompanied by a 9% decrease in overall ad revenue and a 20.1% dip in revenue from print advertising. Rubin said the company hopes its distinctive TV ads, crafted by agency Droga5, spark new conversation and interest among big audiences, while digital and direct–response advertising prod people toward a transaction. The Times is also working with Omnicom Group media buyer Hearts & Science.
The Times has been lockstep in a growing movement. In 2017, the company ran a commercial in ABC’s Oscars broadcast for the first time talking about its efforts to find the truth for its subscribers during a time when that very thing has been stretched by the actions of the Trump administration. In October, Time Warner’s CNN launched a promotional salvo demonstrating to viewers how it focuses on facts first. One of the promos shows a stark picture of an apple on the screen, while music plays. “This is an apple,” says a narrator. “Some people might try to tell you that it’s a banana. They might scream ‘Banana. Banana. Banana.’ over and over and over again. They might put ‘banana’ in all caps. You might even start to believe that this is a banana. But it’s not,” counsels the voice. “This is an apple.”
Expect The Times to continue to use TV when appropriate, said Rubin, who indicated the company would consider specific broadcasts. “We are not advertising to drive awareness,” he said. “We are advertising to get people to realize the difference our journalism offers. We want them to support us.”