Kim Gehrig and Droga5 create powerful New York Times ad, putting journalism to the beat of jazz

The creatives explain just how they built a poem from headlines for the Life Needs Truth film, which aims to reflect society right now and how the newspaper can guide you through it.

19 August 2020


This is how it’s done, folks. Director Kim Gehrig, the powerhouse behind some of the most memorable adverts in recent history, and creative agency Droga5 have unleashed a compelling and creatively impressive new campaign film for The New York Times. Called Life Needs Truth, it centres around a five-verse poem built from NYT headlines and phrases, in itself a feat of research and writing, which appears typed on screen in time with a jazz track by Makaya McCraven, making for an infectious and powerful result.

Covering topics ranging from immigration to working from home, government budgets to midnight pasta recipes, the film is packed with references to our changing society and global issues, aiming to exemplify the breadth of The New York Times reporting. Laurie Howell, group creative director at Droga5, explains that the core concept was about telling the story of the publisher and how it can help us in every part of life. “To do that, we created a poem about life crafted from Times journalism,” he tells It’s Nice That. Howell and fellow group creative director Toby Treyer-Evans also made this ad’s predecessor, The Truth Is Worth It.

“Once the team established the five-verse structure and the rhyming, the challenge became reflecting the world we are living in,” continues Howell. “As quickly as the world changed, the journalism we wanted to feature changed too and so we adapted by reworking the script to reflect the latest headlines.”

But exactly how did that process work? Treyer-Evans explains in more depth: “We set out to try and put a rhyming structure and meter into people’s heads using just sound and music – no voiceover or narration. It’s something we’d never seen before, but we felt it would, in some way, reflect the relationship the reader has with The New York Times and it led to a unique film. This way, the typing could become the lead act, and the journalists’ words were front and centre; the free-form nature of Makaya McCraven’s jazz then gave the feeling of the chaos and unpredictability of life.” 

According to the duo, the music, the sound design and the writing were all developed in tandem in the edit, an intricate balance that involved slowly iterating the sound of the clicks, syllables and rhythm of the images to land on the right tone of voice and energy. The latter is brought in abundance by McCraven’s music.

“We always loved the idea of using jazz because it was able to touch all corners of life,” Treyer-Evans continues. “It allowed room for the highs, the lows, sometimes reflective, lighthearted or serious while keeping a strong backbone to lead you through the piece, all reflecting the purpose and drive of journalism. We were drawn to this particular piece because it felt current and had the energy and also the integrity needed to reflect a brand like The New York Times. Of course, the music helps drive the piece but also allows for the typing to be the lead vocal.”

GalleryDroga5 and Kim Gehrig: Life Needs Truth for The New York Times (2020)

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Droga5 and Kim Gehrig: Life Needs Truth for The New York Times (2020)

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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