'Times' ads may be moving, but won't deliver subscribers

By Published on .

MARKETER: 'The New York Times'
AGENCY: Bozell, New York
RATING: Two stars

If you have news to deliver, the late David Ogilvy liked to say, deliver it.

This was sage advice, because if there is something about your product or service that distinguishes it from the competition--features, price, value, technology, what have you--it's foolish to forsake it.

National advertising works pretty well under most any circumstances, but it works best when the consumer feels he is getting some useful information.

Which, of course, the consumer seldom does.

For one thing, most brands are no better than parity products in crowded fields. There is no news to deliver; the best you can do is gin up some transparently phony USP--like putting menthol in dandruff shampoo so the user can feel the (utterly inactive) special ingredient tingle.

In other cases, there actually is a brand distinction worth trumpeting, but the advertising gets so caught up in its alleged creativity that the news never gets delivered.

This phenomenon, unfortunately, happens all time. The advertising term for it is "stupidity."

We here at Ad Review, of course, are rarely surprised to see such stupidity--and vanity--reign. While advertising is an engine that runs on dollars, vanity is what carburetes the combustion.

On the other hand, we cannot help being stunned when the particular advertiser that declines, unaccountably, to furnish bona fide information is The New York Times.

The New York Times! The venerable purveyor of "All the news that's fit to print"! To print, perhaps so, but apparently not to inform potential subscribers.

Rather, the continuation of the lovely-and-oblique "Expect the world" campaign from Bozell, New York, is now unequivocally magnificent and irrelevant.

"The truth does not sit still for a moment," says poet Maya Angelou in her trademark slow, ultra-enunciated diction atop vivid, black-and-white photography of a tornado gathering on the prairie. "It twists and turns, picks up your opinions and sets them down 1,000 miles away. When was the last time something you read moved you? The New York Times. Expect the world."

It's not just that her words are a lovely complement to the pictures. What makes the spot remarkable is that the swirling debris sucked into the twister's vortex is more than the flotsam of imploded barns; it's type.

Yes, the debris consists of letters, in various point sizes, spinning and somersaulting through the air. Eventually, they coalesce as a front page of The New York Times.

This isn't simply a striking image. It's a gorgeous, seamless, breathtaking effect--an effect made doubly imposing by Angelou's parallel metaphor. Together they constitute a masterpiece.

Two other spots are equally riveting, one with a high diver, another with an M.C. Escher-like shot of geese in flight, morphing into the jumbled alphabet and then into a Times Page 1.

So, undeniably, this is a visual and metaphorical tour de force.

And if a single subscription is sold as a result, we will be stunned.

Is "When was the last time something you read moved you?" a call to action? No. It isn't. ("Hon, we haven't been moved by something we read since you got all weepy over 'The Bridges of Madison County.' Let's take the Times.")

This is a newspaper that each week features Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting and photography. It is the paper of Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, William Safire and Frank Rich. It is the paper of record.

How about some samples? How about a taste? How about a tantalizing reason to subscribe? Don't tell us what to expect. Show us what we're missing. No need to be pretty, or to contrive a disingenuous USP. The tingle of this product is an active ingredient. So spare us the cinematography and the poetic prose.

It's a newspaper, for crying out loud. Deliver the damn news.

Copyright April 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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