How The New York Times rose above Trump's sea of misinformation to grow subscriptions

How The New York Times rose above Trump's sea of misinformation to grow subscriptions

In its more than 160 years of publication, the last four have probably been the toughest for The New York Times. The Trump era inaugurated the term ‘fake news’ into the common lexicon and The New York Times – no Trump supporter – was a constant target of his rage amid the sea of misinformation.

But Trump was not to have the last say.

The Times, shortly after the 2016 election, enlisted the help of ad agency Droga5 for its first brand campaign in a decade. As the battle over control of the narrative was waged, the campaign highlighted how its high-quality journalism had become more important than ever. And readers flocked in their millions to subscribe to The Times.

It is just one of the reasons why our panel of experts selected The New York Times as an Innovation 50 company.

The truth is hard

Daniel Deeks Osburn, Strategy Director, Freuds, is a huge fan. He says, “The New York Times is not only the world’s finest newspaper, it’s also the best marketed newspaper.”

In a clear fightback against the Trump White House’s anti-media rhetoric, the focus of the campaign was ‘truth’ in a campaign entitled ‘The Truth is Hard’.

The first TV spot aired during the 2017 Academy Awards and was a classic black text on white ground statement that began ‘The truth is..’ with the end of the sentence changing to read variously: ‘The truth is we need a full investigation of Russian ties’; ‘The truth is our nation is more divided than ever’; ‘The truth is alternative facts are lies’; and ending on ‘The truth is hard’; ‘The truth is hard to find’; ‘The truth is hard to know’; finally displaying the New York Times nameplate.

The campaign then moved on to demonstrate why high-quality original journalism is so important and worth paying for given falling US levels of public trust in institutions.

The journalism is the ad

The ‘truth’ campaign looked at how hard it is to discover the truth by delving into the way its reporters work across the world to get to the heart of real events.

Marc Allenby, Creative Director, Harvard, also rates this campaign highly, saying, “I really love the way they create journalism within their ads. It’s about their stories. Their TV spots are beautiful and totally intriguing – it’s always about their craft and finding out stories. It’s very simple but highly impactful and of the moment – from Trump to asylum seekers. They’re very cultural”.

With a smart media plan that, for example, placed films where they would be relevant to their subjects, sales rocketed.

The Times reported a greater uplift in subscriptions in the first 24 hours after the first spot aired than it had in the whole previous six weeks. And that first quarter was its best subscription period ever while the second quarter saw it become the first publication to break the 2 million digital subscribers level.

And with Trump now voted out of The White House, The New York Times has outlived the biggest challenge to its authenticity it has encountered .