The New York Times goes from ‘Truth’ to 'Independent' in new brand campaign

The company shifts the focus on the reader in new push created with Droga5

Published On
Feb 07, 2022

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The New York Times has had a successful run with its award-winning “Truth Is” campaign, which artfully combined imagery, typography and sound to illustrate the role of the truth in its readers’ lives.

Now, the company is debuting a new brand push that shifts the focus directly to those readers themselves.

The “Independent journalism for an independent life” campaign, once again created with Droga5 New York, tells the stories of New York Times subscribers' lives through the lens of its headlines.

The spots star a range of readers, from Jordan, a subscriber since 2020, to Vera, a loyal Times reader since 1947. Each reveals the varied, colorful dimensions of its protagonist’s life by weaving together film capturing them in their element, overlaid with a string of New York Times headlines that gradually fill the screen.

The film for Jordan juxtaposes scenes of him against his art-filled room, playing the trumpet with a cityscape behind him and staring at a painting, all against a seductive jazz tune. Those become adorned with Times headlines and photography and revealing his interests:  “Jordan is,” the copy begins, followed by story names including “Soul for the Mornings,” “Choose to Be Grateful,” “The Tune of Georgia Football,” “Where Books Meet Black Mecca,” “Should you move to Canada?” and “The Mystery of That Basquiat Painting.” The spot then closes with the tagline, “Independent journalism for an independent life,” revealing that Jordan has been a reader since 2020. 


The truth remains

“Whenever we set out to do a campaign, we always start with the same goal, which is to grow the number of readers who believe our journalism is worth paying for,” said Amy Weisenbach, senior VP, head of marketing at The New York Times. “We also look at what’s happening in culture and connect that to the role that Times journalism can play in our readers’ lives.”

Previous New York Times advertising highlighted the “truth” and the long, hard path to get to it, as well as how the truth nurtured the lives of consumers during confusing times. That core of truth, Weisenbach said, isn't going anywhere in the brand's marketing. "Our mission is to seek the truth and help people understand the world, and that mission will always be at the heart of our brand campaigns," she said.

Watch: A mini-doc on The New York Times' 'Truth Is' campaign

The new campaign speaks to where consumers are today. “If you just take a step back, culturally, we’re at this moment of reflection and discovery, as you see in macro trends like the number of people changing jobs or careers, or the real estate marketing,” Weisenbach said. “As our readers are evaluating what’s most important to them, who they are, who they want to become, New York Times journalism is there to fuel that curiosity.”

The new push bows as The New York Times continues to see its subscriber base grow. According to the company's ’2021 fourth-quarter and year-end results, it posted 375,000 net new digital subscriptions in its fourth quarter, 171,000 of which came from news subscribers. It also reported that it hit $2 billion in annual revenue for the first time since 2021. 

In January, the company announced its acquisition of online sports news outlet The Athletic for $550 million in cash. The addition of that organization propelled The New York Times to its goal to reaching 10 million subscriptions sooner than expected; that target was originally set for 2025. The organization has set a new goal of reaching at least 15 million total subscribers by year-end 2027.



The idea for the new campaign emerged out of Times research in which a group of subscribers was asked to refrain from interacting with the publication for a week. “We learned a lot about how the Times is woven through our subscribers’ lives and heard all these amazing, really rich stories about what the journalism means to them, so we knew there was something there, that perhaps by showing the people who have the deepest relationships, that we could inspire others to go deeper and ultimately subscribe,” Weisenbach said. 


Currently, Weisenbach said The New York Times’ readership consists of millions of subscribers in every country in the world. “The thing that is common among them is not a particular topic such as news or games or cooking or theater. It’s curiosity.” That led to the brief to “spotlight real-life subscribers who have the deepest relationship with our journalism.”

From there, the team at the Times and Droga5 landed on the new campaign.

“With curiosity as the starting point, we simultaneously tried to find a new visual filmmaking campaign structure that felt different but was an evolution of where we’ve been before,” said Laurie Howell, Droga5 executive creative director. “We thought about a new way of talking about what a life looks like as a subscriber of the Times.”

“With curiosity as the starting point, we simultaneously tried to find a new visual filmmaking campaign structure that felt different but was an evolution of where we’ve been before,” said Laurie Howell, Droga5 executive creative director. “We thought about a new way of talking about what a life looks like as a subscriber of the Times.”

The team found the spot’s “cast” from an array of sources—word of mouth, the groups involved in the Times’ study, and even the Times’ stories themselves. 

Another ad, set to classical music, is a vibrant portrait of 93-year-old Vera Jiji, depicting her in her New York City apartment with cello in hand, dancing with her main man, singing and taking a whiff of the leaves outdoors. The typography reads, “Vera is Life in Bright Colors. Oil, and Eggs, With a Drop of Magic. Rebranding the Bronx. Memories Fueled by Strudel. A Silky Cello Tone and Quiet Elegance,” and so on. The spot reveals she has been a reader since 1947.

Jiji herself had been the subject of a Times piece, “It’s never too late to play the cello.” 

“She's had a million lives in one life,” Howell said “She was early on an absolutely must-do film because she’s telegraphs that independent interest in life and really represented everything we wanted to say.”


As for the art direction of the campaign, the new films live up to the New York Times’ history of exquisite craft with the interplay of journalism, imagery, typography and sound—yet in an entirely new way. 

“We loved the idea of filling the screen with a life through text and toggling between moving images and static imagery, blending the artifacts with the music, sound, voiceover, to paint this picture of this person’s life, capture their personality, ” said Droga5 Executive Creative Director Toby Treyer-Evans.”

Each story closes elegantly with the campaign’s tagline, “Independent journalism for an independent life.

“As the campaign was created, it became really clear that the through-line of what we were hearing from our subscribers was reflected in those words,” said Weisenbach. “At the end of the day, independent journalism is what helps the subscriber lead their incredibly interesting and unique lives.”

From a design standpoint, it also served the spots well. “We love the way it completes the text block,” said Howell. “There’s no traditional end line on these; the statement completes the text block as the film builds.”

For the live-action film elements, the Droga5 team went on the road with a director of photography to the homes of the protagonists to capture documentary-style scenes of their day-to-day lives. Another fresh element is the voices of the readers themselves, who narrate the headlines meant to encapsulate their personalities. 

The campaign will be running on broadcast, streaming, podcasts, in New York Times channels. It also represents the company’s biggest out-of-home media buy, with ads running in the home cities of those in the campaign’s cast, including New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Chicago.