The New York Times Is Using the ‘Truth’ to Pitch Itself Against Facebook and Google

One exec touts its content as safe for brands

Are Facebook and Google The New York Times' biggest competitors? NYT
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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.

“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,” said NYT CEO Mark Thompson, speaking to a few hundred marketers packed into Midtown Manhattan’s Times Center this morning for the first of two weeks’ worth of NewFronts events. “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.”

Thompson was alluding to the recent brand-safety fiasco that led to a YouTube ad boycott, as well as brand-safety concerns about programmatic media buying. Advertisers have also been griping about Facebook and Google’s duopoly in the marketplace, as the pair of tech behemoths now earn, per eMarketer, 60 percent of all U.S. digital dollars.

Although Facebook and Google “are performing at functions that people find fantastic,” Thompson argued that neither platform is well-suited for “the people who are serious about news.”

“I think they’re great places to encounter serious journalism, but I think people who think about news and politics want to know who reported the story, they want to know who edited it, they want to know who is accountable,” he said. “Unlike many other publishers, we believe in being a destination for news, for being a place which habituates people.”

Becoming such a go-to destination for news establishes trust and also doesn’t rely on platforms hosting publishers’ content like Instant Articles or Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (or AMP). While The New York Times was one of the initial publishers to test out Instant Articles, the publisher has since stopped using the quick-loading pages that serve content within Facebook.

"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.”
NYT CEO Mark Thompson

Meanwhile, chief revenue officer Meredith Kopit Levien interviewed Sapna Maheshwari, advertising reporter for The New York Times, about her recent reporting on YouTube’s ad boycott, Breitbart and Facebook and Google’s dominance.

“I think a few months ago there was more of a case to be made that it was a temporary blip, but I think it’s because it came up with fake news and that was before and after the election,” Maheshwari told a room of media buyers. “Then this idea of programmatic and where brands are showing up picked up steam with Breitbart News, again a little bit politics related, maybe temporary.”

Messaging against safety concerns

Maheshwari suggested brand safety—when it comes to being aligned next to questionable content—has even become an issue for TV. Referencing Fox News’ decision to drop Bill O’Reilly only weeks after reports of sexual assault caused dozens of advertisers to pull their commercials from the show, Maheshwari said, “I think we actually haven’t seen that pressure let up.”

She also mentioned her reporting from a story in March with JP Morgan Chase. The financial institution went through a massive undertaking in cutting its ad buys from 400,000 monthly sites to 5,000 sites after Maheshwari found an example of an ad running on the site Hillary 4 Prison.

Maheshwari also showed attendees a graphic of S&P 500 companies. Within the top 10 businesses, only two companies—Facebook and Alphabet—solely make and sell advertising for revenue.

“It’s notable,” Maheshwari said. “It’s remarkable and historic that two of the most valuable companies in the world sell nothing but advertising. It’s why you’re seeing the term duopoly—not just in WPP earnings calls but in regular business views and provided as a point of context when you’re writing about the Snap IPO—it influences every single part of this ecosystem.”

Kopit Levien talked to marketers about the brand-safety complexities associated with programmatic media buying and pitched The New York Times’ content as an environment that helps build brands through the surrounding context and fewer ad-tech vendors.

“In an advertising world of too many intermediaries, too little regard for the consumer and too little control over the surrounding context, we believe that people really appreciate brands that make or associate with ideas that are really worth their time,” said Kopit Levien.

At the same time, it’s clear that The New York Times, like nearly all publishers, relies heavily on Facebook for content distribution. During this morning’s presentation, execs touted that the publication’s video traffic to its website has grown by 40 percent year over year. On Facebook, video viewing has grown by 660 percent in the same time period.

“Video is an incredibly important storytelling tool, so we’re using things like 360, VR, Facebook Live, social media and weaving that into our reports,” said Kaylee King-Balentine, director of shows and series at The New York Times.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.