Oct 8, 2020 - Economy

NYT debuts new ad program to help brands address sensitive topics

New York Times

The New York Times is launching a new advertising insights program called "Pivotal" which will provide marketing partners with research and guidance on the best ways to address controversial issues like race, climate, sex, gender, tech and money.

Why it matters: "This is one of the most ambitious things we've done in advertising to-date," says Allison Murphy, The Times' senior vice president of ad innovation. 

  • "It's quite a bit of investment," she says, noting the money the company has put into hiring full-time staffers and commissioning surveys.
  • At least 3-4 people will be managing research for the project full-time. Every department on the advertising side, including sales, marketing, tech, events, research and design, is involved, as well as some key members from the Times' newsroom.

Details: The insights included in Pivotal draw from 12 months of multi-layered research, including first-party data from the Times' subscribers, survey data from 6,000 of its most loyal readers and broad-based surveys of news consumers.

  • Pivotal also draws on interviews with New York Times journalists about important issues, as well as interviews with industry experts and readers (via focus groups).

In a deck provided to Axios, The Times showcases ways it will leverage that research to provide marketing recommendations to advertisers around climate.

  • "In 2019, 4 of our top 10 most read stories around climate were information pieces, answering the 'how' and 'why,'" one slide reads.
  • "If the role of business in climate is to accelerate change how and wherever they can, The role of brand in climate is two-fold: Lead with a strong voice. Empower clear, symbiotic action," another slide says.

Be smart: Journalists may join events with advertisers about how they perceive certain issues playing out over time, and what their impact will be on society.

  • From a business perspective, the idea is that the platform will help the Times build closer relationships with its clients.
  • "We're not charging for this," says Murphy. "We think clients should expect to learn more from us. That's why we're partners."

The big picture: Pivotal demonstrates an evolution in the Times' advertising strategy and the overall advertising ecosystem.

  • Research shows that consumers increasingly expect advertisers to address complicated and often controversial issues, but marketers are often wary about addressing them, fearing they will alienate some customers.
  • The Times is focusing revenue efforts more on subscription dollars from readers than on advertising dollars from corporations. The idea behind Pivotal is that the Times can leverage the unique data and relationships it has with its paid subscribers and its readers to make marketers' ads more relevant.

What's next: "The research is meant to be ongoing," says Erin Hennessy, executive director of insights. Murphy says the Times is committed to the the program being a "multi-year endeavor."

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