On Monday, I joined about 1,500 media buyers – some who had flown in from Los Angeles – at the Digital Content NewFronts event held by The New York Times. Now, I was expecting some executives to talk about video because the NewFronts have traditionally focused on video. But the event kicked off in The Times Center with a live, custom rendition of “The Daily” podcast, featuring host Michael Barbaro, the host and managing editor, who interviewed White House correspondent Maggie Haberman and Lisa Tobin, executive producer of audio. Now, podcasts are digital content, too, but these people are journalists. So, I scribbled in my notebook, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Then, The Times proceeded to feature a number of other Times journalists over the next two hours, including:

  • Advertising reporter Sapna Maheshwari, who spoke about brand safety and its effect on media and advertising.
  • Investigative journalist Matt Apuzzo, who talked about his work on Russia’s involvement in the U.S. presidential election.
  • Photojournalists Meridith Kohut, Daniel Berehulak, and Bryan Denton, who discussed the power and process of photography in storytelling with international photo editor David Furst.
  • Marc Lavallee, executive director of Story, who looked at the intersection of technology and storytelling.

In other words, The Times didn’t give a series of presentations about their digital content strategy. Instead, the media company showcased its content creators – who are still called journalists – and let them tell their stories about the many ways they work to find the “truth” – from the front lines of the war on terror, to the inner workings of investigating the world’s most powerful governments. The Times is hoping that brand marketers will “dare” to stand with that expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness when they think about the best ways to tell their own stories in a “brand safe” environment.

NYT: A Brand Safe Environment

So, you could say that The Gray Lady has invented a new game called Truth + Dare, (that’s Truth and Dare, not Truth or Dare). This game not only defines how The New York Times covers the world, it also captures the media company’s approach to creating truthful and daring advertising experiences. Oh, and in case you’re wonder why I’m writing about this for Tubular Insights, the presentations by The Times on Monday did include new video programs that will soon be released, on the topics of artificial intelligence, motherhood, and the 2018 Winter Olympics, among others. But, they were just part of the vast Times ecosystem—from audio to AR, Snapchat to service journalism.

But, there’s another reason why I’m writing about Monday’s presentations by The Times to 1,500 media buyers. As Lauren Johnson of Adweek noted, “If you thought The New York Times’ ad campaign featuring the tagline, “Truth. It’s more important than ever,” has been all about defending itself against President Trump’s ‘fake news’ attacks, think again. Facebook and Google are also in the Times’ crosshairs.”

As a matter of fact, Mark Thompson, the CEO of The New York Times Company, told the crowd at The Times Center, “We believe that we’ve got a very credible story, not just about the importance of journalism, but about why journalism is a relationship with people. And if you can crack the code on that relationship, engage them, encourage them to pay, we can offer an environment and an engaged audience, which is very different from random bits of news on Facebook, social media or Google. It’s safer for brands.” In essence, Thompson was saying, “When they go low, we go high.”

Now, there’s some evidence that a few big brands are responding to this message that quality trumps quantity. During her presentation, Maheshwari talked about her story in late March that was entitled, “Chase Had Ads on 40,000 Sites. Then on Just 5,000. Same Results.” In it, she wrote,

“As of a few weeks ago, advertisements for JPMorgan Chase were appearing on about 400,000 websites a month. It is the sort of eye-popping number that has become the norm these days for big companies that use automated tools to reach consumers online.

“Now, as more and more brands find their ads popping up next to toxic content like fake news sites or offensive YouTube videos, JPMorgan has limited its display ads to about 5,000 websites it has preapproved, said Kristin Lemkau, the bank’s chief marketing officer. Surprisingly, the company is seeing little change in the cost of impressions or the visibility of its ads on the internet, she said.”

The Metrics That Matter

Okay, longtime readers of Tubular Insights know that I think impressions and visibility are meaningless metrics. If you’re a new reader, then ask yourself (or your agency), “How many impressions do we need to increase the metrics that matter, like brand awareness, ad recall, consideration, favorability, purchase intent, and brand interest?” Or, “How much visibility do we need for our campaign to have an impact on consumer perceptions and behaviors?”

  • Do people recall watching my video ad?
  • Are my target consumers more aware of my brand after viewing my video ad?
  • Did my video ad move people to consider my brand or product?
  • Are consumers more favorably aligned with my brand’s message/identity after viewing my ad?
  • Are consumers intending to purchase my product after seeing my ad?
  • Are people more interested in my brand/product? Did my ad increase organic search activity for my brand/product?

Heck, Google’s Brand Lift solution measures all of the above. And Facebook’s brand lift studies measure ad recall, brand awareness and message association. And these are among the metrics that matter. Nevertheless, if the CMO at JPMorgan Chase thinks she’s getting the same results by advertising on 5,000 sites that she once got by advertising on 40,000 sites, then heaven help the poor content creators or small media companies that aren’t on that list of 5,000 sites.

On the other hand, Maheshwari also talked about the inconvenient truth that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and Facebook both have much larger market caps than The New York Times Company. So, she acknowledged that the elephant in the room is the large quantity of people that most advertisers want to reach.

A day after Maheshwari spoke, the latest edition of Zenith’s Top Thirty Global Media Owners revealed that Google and Facebook had captured 64% of all the growth in global advertising spending between 2012 and 2016. Zenith found that Google (under its holding company Alphabet) is the largest media owner in the world, attracting $79.4 billion in ad revenue in 2016, three times more than the second-largest – Facebook – which attracted $26.9 billion. The largest traditional media owner was Comcast, which took third place in Zenith’s ranking, with $12.9 billion in ad revenue.

So, it’s generally a smart idea to zig when everyone else is zagging, but The New York Times may be pushing a rock up the hill by emphasizing the quality of its digital content over the quantity of people that brands and the media buyers at their agencies can not only reach, but also can engage.

Now, I should disclose that I have a digital subscription to The New York Times. I admire their journalists on the ground. And I value their stories grounded in facts. So, I’m rooting for them to be successful. But, I also have to acknowledge that The Gray Lady hasn’t embraced the digital video marketing business as strongly as I think she needs to. YouTube gets it. Facebook gets it. Heck, even Twitter gets it. I sincerely hope that the journalists and executives at The Times eventually get it in the near future. See, I can learn to play Truth + Dare, too.

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