You may not know it, readers, but the New York Times has a very specific image of what it wants you to be. No — what it needs you to be. For the past year or so you’ve seen hints of it in those irritatingly omnipresent television ads for the Times’ Saturday and Sunday editions. (Did you even know there was such a word as “Weekender” before those ads?) In them, chipper, clean-cut semi-nerds patter on about how much they enjoy sitting around reading the Times. It’s a vaguely diverse crowd, if your definition of diversity is merely “people with varying tones of impeccable skin,” but really, you can imagine they cast the whole thing by rounding up the occupants of one coffee shop in the West Village on a Saturday afternoon.
In other words, they look like a bunch of rich people. Which, in order to sell ads and keep advertisers from defecting to other elite outlets like The Wall Street Journal, is what the Times needs its audience to be.
The Times’ latest ad campaign, launched last week, gets even more specific. The so-called “Numbers” campaign specifically targets the Journal, which hopes to compete with the Times for readers and advertisers in the city with the launch of its own dedicated New York section next month. Boasting about its numbers in the metropolitan area, the Times ads cite their dominance among business professionals here, women, affluent adults, web users, culture aficionados.
Alongside these “numbers” are pictures of these model Times readers. They are distinguished white businessmen! Black men who type comfortably on laptops! Women who wear expensive jewelry and difficult shoes! And Daddy Warbucks!
For now the “Numbers” ads are relegated to trade publications, where they’re aimed at advertisers who are probably already being wooed by the Journal for its new section. Advertisers see these ads for what they are — statistics. But at the beginning of next month, they will start appearing in public locations throughout the city. According to a spokeswoman for the Times, “the ads will be on some bus shelters and kiosks strategically placed near some key advertisers and ad agencies in New York.” It’s just another avenue to reach advertisers, really, but it’s also another way in which Times readers can get insight into how their newspaper of choice sees them, which is as a uniform group of educated people who universally share, among most other attributes, one key thing: money. That’s no surprise, of course; but something about seeing it displayed so plainly and visually is certainly a bit jarring.
Earlier: Times ‘Weekender’ Commercial Finally Gets the Skewering It Deserves