The New York Times Goes Really Old School

The paper rolls out innovative takeover units echoing 1860s

In the constant struggle to deliver an engaging, dynamic ad experience on the Web, The New York Times has been pulling out all the stops lately.

Starting today (Monday, Feb. 11), in concert with the Times' Idea Lab, the National Geographic Channel will be running a weeklong rotational ad unit on, which will feature a custom interactive ad unit embedded with the paper's digital archive, TimesMachine. In this case the unit will feature a half-page overlay of the Times' headline from April 15, 1865, the day after Lincoln was assassinated—all to promote National Geographic's new drama, Killing Lincoln (which is based on the Bill O'Reilly book). It will run across different areas of the site as well as on the homepage later in the week.

Users will be able to view video content via the ad unit, as well as access TimesMachine, via which they can read digitally archived Times pages from the era. It's a first for the Times, which has been on a recent push to deliver more dynamic ad experiences for its iconic and heavily visited front page. Two weeks ago, the site received positive reviews across social media for a homepage takeover promoting the FX show The Americans, where upon visiting the site, a quick animation transformed the site's homepage type into Cyrillic, simulating a Russian newspaper.

While advertisers may be envious of the Times' recent innovative ad plays, highly intrusive ads like the Killing Lincoln overlay are bound to rub readers that prefer a hands-off ad experience the wrong way. For blue-chip properties like The New York Times, it's a delicate balance not to alienate the readers. "I get the complaints," Times group vp of advertising Todd Haskell said. "The first thing we do is put rules in place [like a seven-second maximum run-time, options to collapse the ad] to protect the reader experience. Online you'll see any number of other sites where there are robots reaching out of an ad and plucking content off the page, and those types of gimmicks we simply won't do."

While the ad may be intrusive, the Times has found that delivering clever creative helps to absolve the sins of a larger ad experience in the eyes of many readers. "We're increasingly seeing that advertisers want to tell more complicated stories online, and readers seem to love these types of executions when they're done well," said Haskell.

Going forward, it appears the Times will continue to incorporate in-house digital innovations like its TimesMachine archives into future ad units as long as feedback remains positive. For the paper, it's a big win as it generates revenue while exposing a larger set of eyes to a Times feature innovation. While it's probably not a cure-all for the paper's financial concerns, it's another step in its digital evolution and for critics of the banner ad, a refreshing departure from the static medium.