This Sunday, The New York Times will debut its first-ever ad to run on the Academy Awards. The simple, black-and-white typographic spot lays out, line by line, a litany of conflicting statements, anchored by the three words, "the truth is" -- "The truth is alternative facts are lies. The truth is the media is dishonest. ...The truth is a woman should dress like a woman. The truth is women's rights are human rights" and so on.
All the while, voiceovers of various people proclaiming their own notions of truth play out in the background. Images and sounds begin to spill over each other at a rapid pace, creating a cacophonous pile-on of information -- until the sound cuts out and the screen goes blank.
Words, now in bold, reappear accompanied by simple piano notes: "The truth is hard/the truth is hard to know/the truth is more important than ever." The ad then closes on the logo of The New York Times.
The spot is part of the publication's first-ever brand campaign in a decade, created out of Droga5 New York. The Oscars version, running nationally, will sub in a pair of lines tailored to Hollywood viewers: "The truth is celebrities should keep their mouths shut. The truth is everyone has the right to speak their mind."
"Picking a program that was high-profile and that would get people talking made sense for us," said New York Times Senior VP-Head of Brand David Rubin. "If one of our objectives was to insert ourselves in the debate that's going on that, frankly, we've been a part of, a high-profile media buy made sense."
And why a new brand campaign, now? "There's a national dialogue going on now about facts and truth and how does one know what the truth is," he said. "We saw an opportunity to be part of that dialogue. We also found in our research that people don't always understand what it takes to do quality original reporting, but when they do, when that becomes part of the dialogue -- about how one finds the truth and about the role journalists can play, they are more interested in supporting it."
Mr. Rubin and his team began working with Droga5 on the campaign about a month and a half ago. It's part of an ongoing effort to align the publication's marketing more closely with its 165-year-old mission to create and deliver high-quality news and information.
"Given the climate we're in, we were looking for ways in which we could reinforce to the world that The New York Times is the pre-eminent place for independent, deeply reported journalism," explained Droga5 Executive Creative Director Tim Gordon. "We started realizing that the actual phrase 'The Truth Is' is batted around a lot way more than you expect. You start noticing it when you listen to the talk shows, late-night, interviews. It's used a lot more to masquerade opinions on one side, so the idea really came from a place of empathy -- knowing that the truth is hard -- to know, and to find. It doesn't matter what side of the spectrum you're on politically."
The simplicity of the ad itself -- using typography and sound to illustrate The New York Times as a "safe harbor" in a noisy storm of information -- was by design. "It felt like a very nice distinction from the barrage of imagery we see daily, whether it's on our feeds, TV or phones," Mr. Gordon said. It felt like a real opportunity to lean into the beauty and simplicity that is the Times. While the ad was produced in-house out of Droga5, the sound design and audio -- key to the impact of the spot -- was created out of Sonic Union.