It’s an ad for an industry, a life’s purpose, rather than for an individual business.
Fittingly, it drew favorable and unfavorable responses from an array of sources.
The Washington Post produced its first-ever Super Bowl commercial, costing a reported $5.2 million and running one minute. The ad features the voice of actor Tom Hanks and images of iconic moments in U.S. history—along with the faces of journalists who have died for their work.
The moving spot begins with shots of memorable news events — the March on Selma, the moon landing, the Oklahoma City bombing — but then shifts to paying tribute to journalists who have been captured or killed.
Among those the ad memorializes is Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder was reportedly ordered by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Following Khashoggi’s death in October 2018, Trump has so far refused to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the killing.
The Post‘s ad follows a similar spot aired by the New York Times during the 2017 Academy Awards, which drew attention to the power in journalism during a time of great turmoil and relentless criticism of the media by President Trump.
The ad was a last-minute effort, according to the paper’s leaders.
The spot, announced late on Friday, was pulled together in less than a week, Fred Ryan, publisher and CEO of The Washington Post, said in a statement.
“We feel that this is the right moment, at the right venue, to present this important message to the large audience of Americans and international viewers that watch the Super Bowl,” Ryan said.
The ad highlighting the work of reporters was a timely one, especially given the conversation President Trump had with The New York Times over what NYT publisher A. G. Sulzberger referred to as “anti-press rhetoric.”
The paper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, also shared the spot on Twitter:
Grateful for the journalists at the @washingtonpost and around the world who do the work, no matter the risk or dangers they face.#democracydiesindarkness #SuperBowlAd https://t.co/faO74lvSs5 pic.twitter.com/37PLrNLJe0
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) February 4, 2019
Not everyone was thrilled with the decision to run such an expensive advertisement. Union leaders slammed the paper for spending money on ads instead of salaries.
The Washington Post will have a 60-second ad during the Super Bowl, which means it is likely paying somewhere in a neighborhood north of $10 million for the airtime.
That doesn’t sit well with Fredrick Kunkle, the co-chair of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild’s bargaining unit at The Post.
And he thinks even if the cause trumpeted by the ad is right and just, the money would be better spent on the company’s employees.
“The Post is now paying, say, $5M/30 seconds to tout journalistic freedom during one of the glitziest and — given the NFL’s knee-taking protests and concussions — more controversial sports events in our country,” Kunkle tweeted over the weekend.
Others on Twitter were excited by the move—and the ad generated plenty of buzz:
This ad running on TVs across the U.S. makes the #SuperBowl a win no matter how unexciting were the game and halftime show.
— Eric Martin (@EMPosts) February 4, 2019
"Democracy dies in darkness."
The Washington Post's commercial tonight. First one for a newspaper I can recall airing during a Super Bowl.https://t.co/Gua3890mmm
— Rick Westhead (@rwesthead) February 4, 2019
My vote? The Washington Post just gave us the best commercial of Super Bowl 53.
— Dick Bremer (@dbremer_pxp) February 4, 2019
The Washington Post ad was gonna be good either way but Tom Hanks really pushes it over the edge
— Leigh Munsil (@leighmunsil) February 4, 2019
— Frida Ghitis (@FridaGhitis) February 4, 2019
The ad’s catch phrase, “Democracy dies in darkness,” which is also WaPo’s slogan, became a trending topic on Twitter.
Some on that platform said the money could have been better spent elsewhere:
Washington Post: please ordinary Americans, give us money for a newspaper subscription, it’s soooo important, democracy dies in the darkness
Also Washington Post: we have over 5 million dollars to blow on a Superbowl ad narrated by Tom Hanks
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) February 4, 2019
The Washington Post ad was good, but it wasn't $5.25 million of journalists' compensation good.
— Matt Hodges (@hodgesmr) February 4, 2019
How many unemployed journalists could have been hired instead of wasting $5.2 million on that Washington Post #SuperBowl ad?
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) February 4, 2019
What do you think of The Washington Post’s ad buy, Ragan/PR Daily readers?