The truth? The New York Times' Oscars ad falls flat
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Anti-Trump fervor is especially rampant along the Acela Corridor, and now our most famous paper surfaces with a provocative — if belated — ad campaign at a time of marketing need.
On Thursday, The New York Times announced a campaign with the central message, "The truth is...hard....hard to find...hard to know...more important now than ever." It will roll out Sunday in two versions, including one just for the Oscars on ABC, which is charging between $2 million and $2.5 million for 30-second spots.
The purpose, the paper explains, "is to show that producing quality, independent journalism requires resources, commitment and expertise and that it’s important that people support it." It includes "the first television advertising The Times has done since 2010 and its first brand-focused television ad in a decade."
Yes, in a decade. And you wonder why the newspaper industry has had its butt kicked? That's one of many (many) reasons. "Throw it on the 7-Eleven racks and they will come" seemed to be the self-deluding mantra.
So take a look at the debut effort: "The truth is more important than ever" is the first line. Then there's the background noise of people gabbing and a rapid-fire series of on-screen statements that whiz by.
"The truth is our nation is more divided than ever...The truth is alternative facts are a lie...The truth is the media is dishonest....The truth is a woman should dress like a woman... The truth is we have to protect our borders...The truth is his refugee policy is a backdoor Muslim ban...The truth is celebrities should keep their mouths shut...The truth is everyone has the right to speak their mind....The truth is we need a full investigation of Russian ties...The truth is leaking classified information is the real scandal...The truth is climate change is a hoax."
There are many more that zip by one or both versions very quickly, with a rising crescendo of voices in the background, clearly meant to suggest argument and confusion (the "celebrities" reference is only in an Oscars version of the ad). It concludes, "The truth is hard...to find...to know...more important now than ever." It then fades to The New York Times' logo.
Sitting in a South Side Chicago coffee shop with a coffee, a carrot cupcake and a Chobani blueberry yogurt, I listened and watched it once. Then twice. Then another time. And a fourth, as Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" was playing at the Bridgeport Coffeehouse.
I was still confused. It was a bit too much, too fast. And "The truth is more important now than ever" seems a direct function of the Age of Trump, a reaction to the business of real and fake news. That's a different tack than The Washington Post's new branding gambit of talking about light and a threat to democracy. "Democracy Dies in Darkness," it declares online under its masthead. That's concise and smart.
Times readers know the truth is important no matter who's president. The more intriguing question, which the Post's own change gets at, is about the media driving the whole democratic process in better ways, not whether truth is important.
"I can see the strategy but find the execution puzzling," says Tim Calkins, a branding and marketing expert at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "I could not figure it out. It's hard to understand what those comments were supposed to reflect. There are clearly some anti-Trump ideas, but then some that are not. They all went by so fast."
The strategy, he divines, is communicating the need to rely upon an institution with the resources to investigate matters and unravel complicated issues. So the best paper in the nation is all the more important since it has the resources to uncover the truth, or at least wants help in maintaining those resources."
Their timing is on the mark, for sure. It's the moment for media to stand up and make its case amid fragmenting business models and audiences. But in this instance, agrees Calkins, "The execution is confusing. It's hard to know what to make of all that train of statements they are putting forth. ...In a bid to be creative, they confuse the message."
Suzanne Muchin, a branding expert and corporate strategist in Chicago, said the ad comes across as defensive.
"First, brand campaigns that are so directly defensive never work," Muchin said. "It feels reactive rather than visionary. NYT readers already want good journalism and truth — so this is preaching to the choir...speaking to the base," she said.
"It would be as if Nike launched a 'new brand campaign' to convince people that being active mattered. So this isn’t really a new branding. It’s simply an ad with a narrative that responds to the criticism of the media and journalism in the same way others are already responding."
A lot of publicity, and probably new subscribers, will result from this very rare national marketing play. But the paper will then need to truthfully examine the cost-benefit equation, especially as Google and Facebook devour all that digital revenue everywhere.
And, then, it needs to perhaps be a bit less mindful of Trump and more of the ultimate necessity: providing a fair-minded filter for the information chaos that overwhelms even the smartest consumers — Trump or no Trump.
CNN a no-show at Nerd Prom?
"CNN is considering sitting out of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, according to two people familiar with the matter, as the annual star-studded affair takes on renewed scrutiny from media outlets irked by the White House’s demonization of the press." A CNN spokesman said not decision as of yet. (BuzzFeed)
The best case for going came several weeks back from Major Garrett of CBS News. (The Washington Post) But maybe there's this alternative: Skip the actual celebrity-filled spectacle, write a big check to the association's scholarship fund, watch on C-SPAN and get tanked at home.
Doing deals with Facebook
Jon Steinberg, founder of Cheddar, the sharp digital business operation for millennials, uses Facebook for distribution. But Twitter is a bigger source if audience, largely because Cheddar is on Twitter's homepage every day.
“I believe in neighborhooding. If our content is on Facebook and put next to things exploding and people in bathing suits, we’re not going to win. We’re providing serious business news. If we’re put on a dial next to Bloomberg and CNN, we’re going to win there. It’s like putting produce in the snack aisle. It’s not going to work." (Digiday)
Note to Fox News
There's been a constant theme at Fox about the rowdy Republican town hall meetings being a mere function of premeditated Democratic actions. So it's notable to read this tale:
"America’s rowdy town halls: More organic than organized — many participants are first-timers who echo in passion, though not in politics, the people who emerged early in the Tea Party movement."
That's not from Mother Jones. It's The Wall Street Journal.
A pre-Oscars downer
The worst films to win Best Picture? Techwalla offers 10, with the most recent being "Crash" (2004):
"Crash is the Hollywood bulldozer that bravely smashed one straw man after another, each one more makeshift than the last. It makes perfect sense that this film won the Oscar... because not picking it would have been racist."
Headline of day
First be informed that DMCA is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Now be informed: "Google Report: 99.95 Percent Of DMCA Takedown Notices Are Bot-Generated Bullshit Buckshot" (Techdirt)
Correction of the day
After its story on The New York Times ad campaign, Ad Age appended this:
"Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported an increase of 276 million digital subscribers. The Times has added 276,000 digital subscribers. Ad Age regrets the error."
Corporate titans, don't heed Trump
As the president schmoozed executives both at a morning meeting and an evening gathering, one hopes some checked out Bloomberg's, "CEOs should avoid overexposure on social media."
"Prospective CEOs should also keep in mind that social media accounts are a treasure trove of information about candidates, and some of the information that is found is enough to make an employer or would-be business partner decide to pull an offer."
You gotta love this: "The biggest mistake people make is inflating their LinkedIn profiles, because it’s possible to research those facts."
Jeff Sessions' first subpoena of a journalist
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a court brief opposing the compelled testimony of John Sepulvado, a former Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reporter. The decision to go after him "was authorized by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his first week in office." (RCFP)
This in from London
Debate over another possible Brexit vote is taking place in the House of Lords, eliciting this tart assessment from Allison Pearson, columnist for The Daily Telegraph:
"This nauseating display of de haut en bas continued in the House of Lords where, for two days, some of the woolliest mammoths ever to walk the Earth have been peering over their spectacles in ill-concealed disgust at the decision of the Small People." (Pearson)
Quantifying right-leaning media
Axios, the new operation started by Politico emigres, "mapped the launch date of 89 news websites over the past quarter century. The data shows there has been an explosion of right-leaning news sites, coinciding with the rise of the Tea Party and alt-right movements beginning in 2010. Many of these sites, in turn, were instrumental in spreading pro-Trump news during the 2016 elections." (Axios)
"The Air Force can’t account for $1 billion in savings that President Donald Trump said he’s negotiated for the program to develop, purchase and operate two new Boeing Co. jets to serve as Air Force One." (Bloomberg)
The morning babble
With David Gregory morphing from pundit into Chris Cuomo surrogate co-host, CNN's "New Day" went heavy with its and others' reporting that the FBI declined a request to badmouth stories about Trump campaign contacts with Russia. The upcoming issue of The New Yorker is quite good on this subject, with new pieces by David Remnick, Evan Osnos and Joshua Yaffa. (The New Yorker)
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" deconstructed Steven Bannon's stated quest to "deconstruct" the government during a public appearance Thursday, with Joe Scarborough likening it all to, yes, his own and other Republicans' elections in the GOP Revolution of 1994. He also announced, with biblical certitude and citing his own reporting, that if you see a nasty story about Reince Priebus or Sean Spicer, the source is Kellyanne Conway.
And "Fox & Friends,' the president's fave, shilled for a full-body exercise chair after going after NBC News for featuring kids explaining their anxiety over Trump, deeming the effort as "opposition propaganda against President Trump." It also derided Madonna, boosted Trump's totally vague tax plans and genteelly interviewed the new Veterans Administration Secretary.
On Tucker Carlson
His "true talent is not for political philosophizing, it’s for televised partisan combat. His go-to weapons — the smirky sarcasm, the barbed comebacks, the vicious politeness — seem uniquely designed to drive his sparring partners nuts, frequently making for terrific television. Indeed, if cable news is ultimately theater, Carlson’s nightly performance is at once provocative, maddening, cringe-inducing, and compulsively watchable. Already, in its few short months in primetime, Tucker Carlson Tonight has created more viral moments than it had any right to do." (The Atlantic)
The onetime sparring partner for Sean Hannity on Fox died at 66. (Poynter)
"One of my favorite people — not just one of my favorite liberals," emailed Laura Ingraham, the radio talk host and Fox analyst. "A class act through and through, a man with a sense of humor and a great heart. Loved Alan."
Joe Conason, editor of the National Memo and a frequent liberal presence on cable TV, said, "He was a nice, bright guy and a good sport — he tried to uphold journalistic values on Fox, not a rewarding job when you work with an abject propagandist like Hannity."
How did national security reporters miss this?
"Lamenting that internal disorganization was making it extremely difficult to get anything done, Russian officials voiced their frustration Thursday about continuing struggles to get policies through the dysfunctional Trump administration."
Thank you, Onion.
And thank you for reading this week. I'm off to the annual gathering of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association but back for a spousal date night — and a light weekend of chauffeuring for soccer and basketball against JaBhat Yellow (that's an actual team), the Roadrunners and the Warriors. If you have inside dope on them, holler. Cheers.