The New York Times debuts coronavirus 'Truth' ad on heels of record quarter for new subscriptions

Publication saw period of most-ever digital subs even after freeing up access to pandemic stories

Published On
May 06, 2020

Editor's Pick

Today, The New York Times debuted “Truth Is Essential,” an ad centered around the coronavirus. The latest spot from Droga5 is glaringly simple, featuring white text against a black background and lines stating facts around the pandemic: “It’s not just a bad flu,” “Bleach is not a cure,” “The Science is vital.” It culminates in the line, “We are safer when we are informed.”

“The whole point of the ad is that there is a lot of information out there, it’s hard to know what to trust, and the journalistic process is one of the best ways to see what facts are real and get a shared baseline of truth,” says The New York Times chief marketing officer David Rubin.

As with all the previous “Truth” ads, the new spot underscores the important role of the NYT's quality, original and heavily verified journalism in readers’ lives. 

It arrives at a time when the NYT’s subscription numbers reflect that consumers are seeing that value. 

This morning, the NYT announced its first quarter 2020 earnings. It reported that total revenues increased 1 percent to $443.6 million from $439.1 million in first quarter 2019. While advertising revenue decreased 15.2 percent, subscription revenue jumped 5.4 percent. 

The last quarter was the NYT’s largest ever in terms of subscription growth. In the first quarter, the NYT added 587,000 new digital subscriptions—a notable leap, given that it had freed up access to most of its coronavirus coverage during the period. 

By the end of April, the NYT had added more than 4 million subs to its digital-only news product, more than 5 million digital-only subs and more than 6 million total subs across digital and print.

While the new spot maintains the style of the more recent “Truth Is Hard” ads centered on NYT journalists’ reporting, this one is intentionally simpler, featuring just text and sound—an approach that somewhat hearkens back to the ad that introduced the Truth platform during the 2017 Oscars.

According to Rubin, that first ad and the new one are similar in that they were both driven by the current context of the times. “‘Truth Is Hard’ came out in 2017 after the election, a time of high uncertainty when people weren’t sure what was going to come next,” he says. “That sounds like right now.”

As for the spot’s spare approach, “we’re talking about the importance of facts, so there’s a certain niceness to the simplicity,” Rubin says. Moreover, “with all these brands telling similar stories, we like this as a way to stand out.”

“We we wanted to reduce it to just the truth, but it reflects the truth in the face of lots of mistruths out there,” adds Droga5 Group Creative Director Laurie Howell. “No frills, no distractions. If you are going to jump in with a piece of work during this sensitive time, it needs to add something, or help people. So as simple as it might be, we looked to do a bit of work that is just there to reflect what The New York Times is able to give us all, verifying the facts amid a sea of misinformation and at a time when readers need them to make sense of this very uncertain moment.”

The simplicity also allowed for a quick turnaround. Rubin says the NYT and Droga5 had been working on a follow-up campaign to “The Truth Is Worth It,” but as it became clear how the pandemic was increasingly impacting the world, the team pivoted to this spot about five weeks ago. 

The ad begins to roll out today organically, with a paid digital push starting tomorrow. Broadcast will start during the weekend, with buys during this weekend's “Saturday Night Live,” on Sunday morning shows as well as late night programs including “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

While the recent quarterly figures bode well for subscriptions, advertising revenue is another story. When asked if marketing would turn its focus to advertisers, Rubin says the NYT will stay the course focusing on subscribers.

“The entire strategy is to get as much money as possible into the journalism,” he says. “Our readers are most passionate about and committed to our product, and we think that [product] will make for the strongest and healthiest ad business.”