Brandcenter alumni bring home accolades for New York Times ad campaign

Two pairs of feet shown, one pair shows an electronic monitoring bracelet around its right foot.

A photo still from The New York Times’ ad campaign, “The Truth is Worth It: Perseverance,” which follows a reporter’s journey as she uncovers the stories of separated migrant families.

Few advertising campaigns ever win a Cannes Lions award — the industry’s most prestigious honor — let alone two Grand Prix awards.

But The New York Times’ “The Truth is Worth It” campaign did just that when it received the Film Craft and Film awards at the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

The Droga5 team that developed the campaign included two Virginia Commonwealth University alumni, Tim Gordon (M.S.’08/MC) and Nick Maschmeyer (M.S.’12/MC).

Tim Gordon.

VCU Brandcenter alumnus Tim Gordon, executive creative director at New York-based Droga5.

“The campaign is centered around the idea of truth and the idea of establishing The New York Times as one of the preeminent, if not the preeminent, destination for the best journalism,” said Gordon, who earned his copywriting degree from VCU in 2008 and was executive creative director on the award-winning campaign. “Everything [the NYT reporters] do is in service of providing more clarity and understanding of the world. And they do that through a dedication to truth.

“We needed to come up with a campaign that convinced and encouraged and reminded people why original journalism is worth paying for.”

The creatives wanted the campaign to show the rigor, perseverance and dedication that goes into reporting important and impactful stories. They used footage of journalists as they investigated stories about everything from immigration and child detention at the border to climate change and taxes.

The integrated campaign, which aired everywhere from TV to social media, aimed to change the public’s perception about the role of a free press and why quality journalism matters.

“We had previously struggled to help our readers understand the work and time and investment that goes into The New York Times reporting they look at on their phones or hear about every day, and why it requires their support,” said Sabena Gupta, director of brand marketing and strategy at The New York Times. “Working with Tim and the Droga5 team, we were able to find the elegant and creative solution that you see in ‘The Truth is Worth It’ campaign, bringing the reporting journey across some of the most important stories from last year to life.

“Most importantly, it was done in a way that helps readers understand why our journalism is worth paying for, and why subscribing to The Times is so critical. Not only was the campaign successful in shifting reader perceptions about the role and impact of our journalism, but it also led to an increase in subscriptions directly attributed to the campaign.”

The campaign evolved from an earlier initiative, “The Truth Is,” which first aired during the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony. Subsequent spots showed reporters on the ground wherever the news took them, be it natural disasters, war zones or the White House.

Subscriptions went through the roof. The New York Times acquired more subscribers within the first 24 hours of the launch than it had in the six weeks beforehand. The first quarter of 2017 became the Times’s best quarter ever for subscriber growth, and in the second quarter, the paper passed 2 million digital-only subscribers, a first for any news organization, according to Droga5.

Both campaigns resonated because they were informative but emotional at the same time, Gordon said. “The Truth is Worth It” encompassed many of the key topics of Cannes Lions 2019, including impact of brands, transformational storytelling and trust and ethics.

“Since its inception, the Cannes Lions Festival has been the premier awards show for creativity,” said R. Vann Graves, executive director of the VCU Brandcenter. “It’s amazing to witness our Brandcenter alumni continue to reach the top of the industry through their hard work and creativity. Tim Gordon and Nick Maschmeyer are another fantastic example of how our work impacts what’s happening in the world.”

Beyond the record subscription growth, the success of the campaign encompasses the idea of truth taking hold in culture, Gordon said.

“People are buying T-shirts with The New York Times logo on it and ‘Truth’ displayed across their chest and wearing it as a badge of honor,” he said. “That, in many ways, is even more exciting because we realize that we’re doing something that is actually resonating with people.”


This article was originally published by VCU News.

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