New York Times brand campaign takes lighter approach during pandemic

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Around the world, 2020 brought with it unprecedented change, challenges, and uncertainty. As the pandemic unfolded and messaging moved from “flattening the curve” to a somber reality of lockdowns and quarantines, a common approach emerged from brands and companies that wanted to show their support. In most cases, the messaging was heavy and gloomy — a reminder of the difficult challenges we all were facing but delivered with a promise that we could all get through it together.

While the situation facing the world was heavy, The New York Times felt that the messaging didn’t need to be. At a time when headlines were increasingly dire and the mood around the world continued to plummet, The Times took a refreshing approach to reminding the public of what its brand stands for.

It neither avoided the topic of the pandemic nor centralised its brand campaign around it; instead, with The Truth Is Essential: Life Needs Truth, it showcased the fact that The Times continued to provide readers with the news they needed to navigate this new way of life while still providing the rich journalism needed for other areas of life, too.

Taking a fresh creative approach, the campaign was designed to represent all facets of the Times, from its well-respected reporting to the new features it was creating to make life in lockdown more tolerable. The goal behind the campaign was to drive brand affinity within its target audience: news readers with a curious mindset. And to do that, the creative team sought to strike a tone that respected the current challenges of the pandemic while also celebrating the high points that were still part of everyday life.

Hitting the mark

The result was a campaign that was upbeat and inspirational while also acknowledging the trials and challenges being faced by frontline workers and everyday people alike. The campaign was deployed across all channels, and each asset in the campaign was tailored to generate the greatest KPIs for its channel, such as video completion rate or social engagement.

For its television commercials — the channel in invested in most heavily — it used upbeat music and photo montages interspersed with Times headlines that showed the range and variety of its coverage.

Mobile and desktop landing pages illustrated how journalists were covering a rapidly changing world.
Mobile and desktop landing pages illustrated how journalists were covering a rapidly changing world.

On mobile and desktop landing pages as well as through print ads, it illustrated how journalists were covering everything from protests and police brutality to elections to the pandemic. And it reminded readers that every Times subscription helped support those journalists on the front lines.

Regardless of the format, it provided a clear reminder of the personal value that readers received from reading The Times — and made a compelling argument about why reporting is worth paying for.

Reaching the masses

The campaign hit home with readers and hit the Times’ No. 1 objective, which was to boost brand affinity. That was particularly noticeable in television, which showed a lift across all the measured KPIs. And it also found significant reach with more than 1.25 billion impressions across TV and digital and more than 120 million video completions. Additionally, social media engagement surpassed 27 million.  

The campaign was carried out across print, digital, television, and mobile.
The campaign was carried out across print, digital, television, and mobile.

While that checked the boxes The Times wanted to reach in the consumer space, the ad also received attention from the industry. It earned the Film Craft 2020/2021 Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and also took the top spot on Ad Age’s list of Best Creative Moves of 2020. Ad Age praised the campaign’s ability to merge the highs, lows, and even the most mundane events into what it called a visual poem: “More so than any campaign, the ad elegantly captures the 2020 roller coaster with the gravity it deserved but also the levity we needed — just as The Times did with its reporting.”

About Paula Felps

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