The New York Times is running a new commercial that portrays itself as an arbiter of truth in a confusing political environment. “The truth is more important now than ever,” declares the ad, which will debut during the Oscars.
It’s the newspaper’s first television commercial since 2010, but longtime readers, particularly in New York, will recall when the New York Times regularly hawked subscriptions on TV. Looking back on some of those ad campaigns from prior decades tells a certain story of the Times—how it has viewed itself and portrayed its value to readers.
1980s: “It adds life to your life”
In the 1980s, the Times cast itself as the center of life at home and in the office, with a copy of the newspaper always tucked under someone’s arm. Still safe from the pressures of the internet, it was the source of last night’s sports scores, recipes, and fresh reading material even at the end of the day.
1990s: “Expect the world”
“Times doesn’t just report on the issues, it helps me to understand them,” a woman says straight into the camera in one commercial from the ’90s, “and that’s important when I’m making decisions that will affect my family.” Later in the decade, the Times would debut a new marketing slogan, “Expect the world.”
2000s: The Weekender
The Weekender spots, which blanketed local television in the New York area, fashioned the Times as a mix-and-match experience of its various sections: “How many sections are you fluent in?”
The Weekender ads were so ubiquitous that they inspired a number of parodies, including this one from the 92nd Street Y.
2010s: “The truth is more important now than ever”
In 2010, the Times’s television commercials were still focused largely on a local audience: “That’s why there’s only one paper that covers New York like the New York Times, and that’s the New York Times.”
The paper’s return to TV in 2017 cites a far more national focus, hoping to build on a surge in subscriptions since the election of US president Donald Trump, who has frequently assailed the Times and called it a “failing” newspaper. Ahead of the ad’s television debut, Trump tweeted that the Times might be better off “reporting accurately & fairly! ” than running a new ad campaign.