The New York Times' Muse for Ad Product Innovation: Its Newsroom

Format Evolved From Editorial Feature On Picasso

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The New York Times is looking to a new area for inspiration as it attempts to make its own digital ad products stand out more: its newsroom.

On Tuesday, NYTimes.com will be the canvas for the latest example of this effort: an ad for Wisk detergent [shown above] that displays what appears to be, at least on the surface, a clean shirt. But when a reader uses the cursor to move a digital black light over the shirt, they unearth hidden dirt spots beneath the surface. The Wisk ad will also be shown to some Times readers on the iPad, and will allow them to reveal the dirt stains by swiping their fingers over the ad.

The ad format, which the Times is dubbing "Unveil," was developed after its Idea Lab ad team noticed the technology used in an interactive graphic for a feature in the Arts section in October. In that instance, readers were able to move their cursor over a digital rendering of a Picasso painting to reveal another Picasso artwork underneath.

Impressed by the interactivity of the Picasso graphic as well as the unusual amount of time readers spent on the page (more than three minutes), the staff of the Idea Lab -- the Times' advertising-innovation center -- decided it would work up a prototype to see what the technology might offer to advertisers.

"We don't ever get a heads up from the newsroom," said Tracy Quitasol, exec director of product marketing and ad platform innovation, "but as we discover something or see something we like…we say to ourselves, 'Do we need their code or can we build it ourselves?'"

In this case, the Idea Lab chose to use the software code associated with the Picasso graphic only as a guidepost and rewrote the code for its own use.

This is the latest, and one of the more innovative, cases of the ad department building ad products based on news graphics -- something it has done on and off for about a year and a half. Another execution saw the business side build a timeline into an ad, which was inspired by a similar graphic associated with a news feature about the World Cup. Todd Haskell, group VP-advertising, said the newsroom continues to produce a pipeline of graphics that Times advertisers could eventually benefit from.

"They are very time-intensive" Mr. Haskell said of these ad products, "but as an organization we are increasingly feeling this is space, when organized properly, that we can play in and win in in big way."

The new "Unveil" format turned out to be a nice fit for Wisk, which was looking to launch a campaign around a mockumentary titled "Inside Dirt: The Dirty Truth About Your Clean Laundry" that aims to get people to reconsider "what clean even means," according to Kate Sinnott, associate media director for Wisk's media agency, Merkley + Partners.

"It literally marries up with the creative, unveiling this hidden factor underneath the surface that you don't see," Ms. Sinnott said.

The Times portion of the Wisk campaign will also include interstitial video ads, and will account for about 10% of the overall Wisk campaign that is expected to reach mid-seven figures, according to Ms. Sinnott.

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