The Washington Post will debut its first Super Bowl commercial — a message underscoring the importance of newsgathering and the dangers journalists can face — during Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams. The 60-second spot, narrated by actor Tom Hanks, will air in the fourth quarter of the game, shortly before the two-minute warning.
The commercial, produced in partnership with Mark Woollen and Associates, shows scenes from major news events from World War II through the present day. Hanks’s narration describes the role of journalists as eyewitnesses and gatherers of fact, as well as the profession’s larger importance to society. The commercial ends with The Washington Post’s logo and its slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
“The Super Bowl is a remarkable moment to recognize the courage and commitment of journalists around the world that is so essential to our democracy,” said Fred Ryan, publisher and CEO of The Washington Post. “We decided to seize the opportunity to make this a milestone moment in our ongoing campaign.”
The advertisement will briefly show several slain and missing journalists affiliated with The Washington Post and other publications. They include freelance reporter Austin Tice, who has been missing in Syria for more than six years. Tice is believed to be alive, though his whereabouts are unknown. Another freelance journalist, columnist Jamal Khashoggi, was killed at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. The CIA determined, with high confidence, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s assassination.
A third journalist shown in the commercial, Marie Colvin, was an American war correspondent for the Sunday Times in London. She was killed in 2012 by Syrian forces while reporting in Homs, Syria. Colvin is the subject of the 2018 film “A Private War,” and on Wednesday, a U.S. court ordered the Syrian government to pay $302 million in damages to Colvin’s family.
Ryan said The Post purchased the spot when it became available last week. A Washington Post spokeswoman declined to say how much the advertisement cost to produce, or how much money The Post paid for the slot. CNBC reported that CBS is charging a record $5.25 million for a 30-second slot.
Some advertisers begin planning their ads months before the big game, but The Post’s commercial was produced in one week. Choosing Hanks as the narrator was a nod to his role as former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee in the 2017 Steven Spielberg film “The Post,” about the paper’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers.
Previous Washington Post advertisements that ran on TV were used to sell subscriptions. But this commercial has a different goal.
“This was a chance for a broader message about the role journalists play in our everyday lives and the risks they take to bring us the facts,” Ryan said.
During the 2017 Academy Awards, the New York Times debuted its first ad campaign in more than a decade. Agency Droga5 created a commercial that hinges on the phrase “The truth is,” presenting a series of conflicting statements and ending with bold type that reads: “The truth is more important now than ever.” It, too, did not include any information about buying a subscription. An ongoing ad campaign for CNN carries the tagline “Facts first.”
After the game, The Post’s commercial will be published on its website and social media channels.
Below is the message Publisher Fred Ryan sent to employees:
Dear Washington Post colleagues,
I’m writing to share some exciting news. If you are watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, you will see a special message sponsored by The Washington Post.
As you know, The Washington Post has a deep commitment to the cause of a free press. This is part of why we launched The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership, which works with several organizations to champion independent journalism and to highlight the important, and increasingly dangerous, work of journalists around the world.
With the murder last year of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the ongoing detention of freelancer Austin Tice, and the injustice of Jason Rezaian’s 544 days in an Iranian prison, this is an issue that is close to many of us. But The Post is not the only news organization to have experienced such outrageous abuses. Just last year, 64 journalists around the world were killed—and more than 250 jailed—simply for doing their jobs.
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.
While most Super Bowl ad producers have the better part of a year to prepare their spots, we had the lesser part of a week. I’d like to thank everyone across The Washington Post who dove heart-first into this project and enabled us to produce a powerful message that pays tribute to those who provide the knowledge that is essential to our freedom. It’s a message that everyone who values press freedom can be proud of.
And, not to bury the lede, but a great supporter of a free press and friend of The Post, Tom Hanks, kindly provided the narration for our Super Bowl message.
So, please watch for this special presentation. It will air in the fourth quarter, just before the two-minute warning.