Janelle Monáe Narrates New York Times Ad for The 1619 Project

It's the latest iteration for its 'The Truth Is Worth It' campaign

janelle monae standing on a beach in a white dress
The New York Times worked with Janelle Monáe to advertise The 1619 Project.
The New York Times

Actor, singer and producer Janelle Monáe can add one more accolade to her bio: the first celebrity to appear in an advertisement for The New York Times.

A 30-second commercial from the publisher will run during the Academy Awards on Sunday night, marking the Times’ return to the prominent advertising space. This is the second time the paper will have an ad during the nation’s most-watched entertainment telecast of the year, after purchasing an ad slot during the 2017 Oscars when it released its “The Truth Is Hard” campaign.

The Times returns to the Oscars at the end of a seven-day news stretch that saw headlines about President Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg taking out Super Bowl spots, a confusing Iowa caucus, the Senate acquiting Trump and a Democratic debate.

Throw in, for good measure, another round of society questioning just how white the Oscars nominees can get. The Times saw an opportunity to push its narrative of investigative reporting while also promoting its years-long newsroom-wide initiative.

“[The Oscars] is such a broad platform for storytelling, it tends to ignite thoughtful conversation about our culture at large,” said Amy Weisenbach, the Times’ svp of marketing and media strategy. She added, “When I think about The 1619 Project and the impact it had on the national conversation, in particular about race, I think the Oscars provide a nice backdrop for that to live in.”

The 2017 Oscars ad was the first in a series of brand marketing advertisements the publisher did with Droga5. Called “The Truth Is Worth It” the work showcased how the Times’ reporting is done, and the spots won the Grand Prix for Film Craft at Cannes Lions last year.

The two reunited for the latest ad in the campaign, which Weisenbach said also marks the most significant paid advertising effort the publisher has made to promote The 1619 Project after its rollout last summer. She did not reveal what that paid effort costs.

As is the case with all marketing efforts from the Times in the “Truth Is Hard” campaign, executives hope to increase the number of subscribers by showcasing the reporting process. The Times already boasts more than 5 million total subscriptions.

The Times also reported today that total revenues reached $508.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, a 1.1 percent increase year-over-year, subscription revenues increasing 4.5 percent.

“We know if more of our readers understand the rigor and impact, they’re more likely to subscribe,” Weisenbach said. “As long as [the publisher’s journalists] continue to tackle ambitious stories, we’ll have amazing stories to highlight. The 1619 Project is such a powerful example of how journalism can have an impact.”

It’s not clear when the ad will run during the Oscars, but the advertisement will also run across social media and print.

The Times released The 1619 Project in August last year, examining when enslaved Africans first came to the colonies 400 years ago and how slavery has shaped American society ever since. The project, overseen by The Times Magazine’s Nikole Hannah-Jones, began with a takeover of The New York Times Magazine and a special section in the print edition of The New York Times.

The publisher had paid promos that ran on social for a month and a half, but the success of the project quickly resonated online after it was released. The Times printed almost 250,000 extra copies of the magazine, many of which the publisher gave for free to schools and libraries, and the project drew lines of people interested in getting their hands on a number of free copies given out at its New York headquarters.

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