The New York Times' T Brand Studio helped open the aperture around Black lives
The New York Times Advertising's VP of Creative Vida Cornelious reflects on a pair of brand projects that represent the totality of Black life
Feb 07, 2022
Our Black History Month Celebration of Creative Excellence continues with our guest editor for week two, Vida Cornelious, VP of creative at The New York Times Advertising. The seasoned industry vet’s career has seen stops in key leadership roles agencies and brands including Fake Love, Walt Disney, Walton Isaacson, Global Hue and DDB. She previously served as executive creative director overseeing special projects with The New York Times Advertising's T Brand Studio. Last July, she stepped up to her current role.
We thought it fitting to have Cornelious lead this week, as we head toward Super Bowl Sunday. Last year for this series, she had been selected by then-guest editor Aaron Walton to share one of her stories, about turning Jeep “human” for a 2013 Super Bowl ad. Here, however, she has chosen a different pair of projects to highlight, which reflect her commitment at T Brand to portraying Black lives with totality and dimensionality.
“Soul of Us,” created with Starz #TaketheLead, and “Picture Progress,” conceived alongside Google, are platforms around which The New York Times Advertising and its brand partners have helped to open the aperture around Black lives beyond the notion of struggle, to create a more complex portrait that includes themes of joy, success, tradition and ritual.
It’s no secret, advertising, marketing and media are industries that have historically struggled with diversity and remain challenged in how they handle the critical importance of authentic representation. And as 2020 proved to be a year that had reached its boiling point of uncertainty, intolerance, fear and racial unrest, America found itself consumed with a long-awaited reckoning and confrontation of its painful, historical past.
There was so much that needed to be said, but not always done with the empathy or intelligence needed to say it. There were advertisers that mis-stepped–seizing the moment with opportunistic marketing strategies to score “points” as allies of the Black community.
We knew the moment called for truth and understanding.
As the content studio of New York Times Advertising, T Brand creates work with an ethos that upholds our commitment to creating content that elevates and educates. We also place DEI at the forefront of our work because we know authentic storytelling is what creates shared empathy and understanding for our readers.
As the world continually debated why “Black lives matter,” we decided to open the aperture, creating a path to recognizing that what makes a Black life matter is to truly understand the totality of what a Black life is. Historically, Black lives have been undervalued in the media–made synonymous with struggle and inequality, when Black Life is so much more than that. It is a rich tapestry of joy, traditions, rituals, successes, “firsts,” and the enduring strength of our ancestor’s spirit.
This is the thinking that inspired our first T Brand creative franchise, “Soul of Us.” The creation of this bold, multi-part storytelling endeavor was intended to expand the narrative around the Black experience in American History. These are the stories rarely seen in the media, but desperately need to be told.
It was vital to the success of this effort to collaborate with Black creators, artists, writers, and makers to tell these stories. And it is through this platform that we have been able craft a richer narrative, a series of chapters, exploring and exposing aspects of Black life that has the power to educate the broader advertising, marketing, and media community making way for accurate, nuanced representation.
As the creative lead of T Brand, I am very proud of my team’s commitment to delivering an amazing body of work in “Soul of Us.” And our inaugural brand partner, Starz #TaketheLead, immediately saw the value in joining us in this effort. They partnered with us to tell insightful stories of leadership in the Black community and how that delicate journey forms unique paths from childhood to adulthood. From the thoughtfulness of the content hub design to the sourcing of incredible editorial stories, to the sales team pitching the work to relevant clients, everyone who touched this work was touched by this work—and that is a testament to its importance.
“Soul of Us” is just one of the recent projects that has been a stellar example of our DEI commitment at New York Times Advertising. We also collaborated with Google in the launch of its Pixel 6 Phone featuring Real Tone Technology. This technology is a groundbreaking advancement in representation that was developed to recognize a vast range of skin tones with precision and accuracy never done before in photographic history.
Our T Brand work in support of this effort, “Picture Progress,” is a creative campaign promoting image equity as our pathway to equalizing and rewriting our visual history. Our goal was to show the Real Tone technology as a conduit for capturing the unique stories our skin tones have the power to reveal.
We put the Pixel 6 camera in the hands of three BIPOC photographers, to capture the future outcomes of what image equity enables—a celebration of identity and self-expression.
I have been fortunate to take part in creating many insightful, successful campaigns in my career. But bringing to life this culturally-defining T Brand work in “Soul of Us” and “Picture Progress,” affirms my belief that we must continually champion why representation should and will, always matter.