The New Yorker wants media consumers to question what they think about ... The New Yorker.
In a new campaign quietly launching in test mode today, the venerable Condé Nast title is marking its 95th anniversary with a series of digital ads—including static display ads and short animations for social media—that celebrate the magazine’s remarkably broad range of provocative writing and reporting. The campaign theme, “The Right Question Changes Everything,” connects to specific questions such as “How are emojis born?” and “What does ‘racist’ mean?” and then directs readers to more than a dozen high-profile New Yorker articles from recent years. In essence, the content—and the relentlessly inquisitive journalistic process that drives that content—is the campaign.
“There are many ways to approach and become attached to The New Yorker,” Editor-in-Chief David Remnick tells Ad Age, “and we wanted the campaign to reflect that. We put a lot of thought into the story selection”—more on that in a moment—“because we cover more than just investigations or politics or literature. We’re those things, plus pop culture, music, science, psychology, the environment, issues of social justice and so much more.”
“The Right Question” project is being led by Monica Ray, executive VP of consumer marketing at Condé Nast, working with Condé’s creative agency CNX alongside Remnick and his editorial leadership team. “This campaign was conceived well before COVID-19,” says Ray, “so we had to adapt our media strategy considerably. We’ll be rolling out a ‘homebound plan’ that focuses on digital: digital video, digital high impact, audio and paid social, reaching potential readers where they are—online and still largely at home.” When first conceived, the campaign was meant to have a significant out-of-home/transit element that is now on hold.
The landing page for the “The Right Question” lays out the campaign’s—and the magazine’s—philosophy:
At The New Yorker, we’ve learned that truly revelatory work starts with a surprising question—one that reframes how we see the world.
These questions have exposed secrets and brought down wrongdoers. They’ve changed our understanding of politics and art, of our families and our society, even of life and death.
Writing that stays with you tackles the really big questions. It’s these questions that make The New Yorker essential.
Among the campaign’s specific questions, and the stories those questions highlight:
“What does ‘racist’ mean?”—which directs readers to Kelefa Sanneh’s “The Fight to Redefine Racism” (from the Aug. 12, 2019, issue)
“Was Buffy underrated?”—Emily Nussbaum’s “Cahiers du Buffy” (March 28, 2014)
“What did we learn the last time?—Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Deadliest Virus Ever Known” (Sept. 22, 1997)
“How are emojis born?”—Sophie Haigney’s “Should There Be Emojis for Everything?” (July 22, 2019
“Can drugs take the place of religion?”—Jia Tolentino’s “Losing Religion and Finding Ecstasy in Houston” (May 20, 2019)
“Why can’t we police the police?”—Jelani Cobb’s “The Death of George Floyd, in Context” (May 28, 2020)
“What does it take to stand up to a predator?”—Ronan Farrow’s “From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories” (Oct. 10, 2017)
“Who bought the Presidency?”—Jane Mayer’s “The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency” (March 17, 2017)
Brendon Volpe, head of strategy at CNX, tells Ad Age that “The truth at the heart of The New Yorker is also the belief that inspires its most passionate readers: It’s good to be curious.” In a way, Volpe adds, the campaign indirectly addresses the fact that “We’re living through this crazy moment of extreme certainty in the media, where people seem to have an opinion before they even know the facts. In a world like this, curiosity wins.”
Three markets—San Francisco, Chicago and Hartford, Connecticut—are being targeted in the test phase kicking off today, with plans for a national campaign later this year. “These three markets have fundamentally different readership habits and volumes,” says Ray, “and the goal is to find out ‘How does the brand campaign alter behavior there, and by how much?’”
Speaking of consumer behavior, it turns out that pandemic-containment stay-at-home directives in communities across the U.S. have been good for The New Yorker’s bottom line when it comes to reader revenue: From March through May, the magazine added 197,000 new subscribers, which amounts to “a 120 percent increase compared to the same period a year ago,” Natalie Raabe, the brand’s communications chief, tells Ad Age. (A print+digital subscription to The New Yorker costs $119.99.)
Raabe says that the magazine has no immediate plans to increase its official print rate base, but adds that newyorker.com averaged 23.9 million unique visitors per month from March through May, “up 41 percent compared to the same period a year ago”—and time spent averaged 90.6 million minutes per month, up 37 percent vs. March-May 2019.