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June 11, 2024, 10:17 a.m.
Audience & Social

What can The Wall Street Journal’s new ad campaign tell us about its future?

The new brand campaign is aimed at younger versions of existing Journal readers. The various “It’s Your Business” ads center some of the newsroom’s edgier and more evergreen journalism.

The Wall Street Journal shared the first look at its new multimillion dollar brand campaign featuring a new tagline “It’s Your Business” on Tuesday.

At the outset of the campaign, senior vice president of brand marketing Alex Dousie said the Journal had three goals:

  • Increase brand awareness. “We’re trying to increase brand awareness of The Wall Street Journal to a wider demographic than what we’ve had in the past.”
  • Subscriber growth. The Wall Street Journal has 4.2 million subscribers, including 3.7 million digital-only subscriptions, according to its most recent quarterly report.
  • A shift in perception.

The last, Dousie said, is “the most interesting one.” The average age of a Wall Street Journal subscriber is 59. The homepage features a navigation sorted by the titles CMO, CIO, and CFO. With a new color-blocked campaign featuring a heavier-weight version of the iconic Journal font, the news org hopes to reach a younger demographic that currently believes the Journal isn’t for them.

“Our name, The Wall Street Journal, is one of our greatest strengths, but arguably one of our greatest weaknesses as well,” Dousie said. “For that audience, they hear it and they go, ‘I’m not interested in Wall Street. So why should I read you?’”

“What we’re trying to do here is to get that audience to understand [that], no, the type of content we’re writing about not only should be right for them — it should be interesting to them — but it’s really imperative for them to advance in their professional and personal lives,” Dousie added.

The Journal did extensive reader research before partnering with Mother on the brand campaign. The newsroom believes this untapped younger audience has “almost the same attitudes and ambitions” as their career-focused core audience but they haven’t ascended to the C-suite or top tier of their profession quite yet. Dousie described this group as “very motivated by their professions” and the brand campaign as an attempt to sell The Wall Street Journal as a tool to help them take the next step in their career.

The brand campaign puts the Journal’s journalism front and center.

“We’re actually talking about specific stories, which we haven’t done in quite some time and definitely not in this way before,” Dousie noted. (The Journal’s last brand platform “Trust Your Decisions” launched in 2021.) The featured stories include work about shrooms in the boardrooman art world feud, buying gold bars at Costco, and dealing with nepo babies in the office.

The new “It’s Your Business” campaign utilizes context-specific locations in New York, Dallas, and Miami. Ads telling potential readers to “Make Charger Hacking Your Business” and “Make EV Politics Your Business” are designed to appear in parking spaces. An ad about “sleep divorce” will live above a mattress retailer and another explaining inflation through the price of hot dogs will appear on hot dog stands. The ads will pop up in places with lots of people leaving and coming to work, including Penn Station, but also neighborhoods where the younger audiences the Journal is targeting “live and exist,” Dousie said. (This campaign marks the first time the Journal has been “in market” in the New York City neighborhoods of Bushwick and the Lower East Side.)

“This isn’t a campaign sitting across Times Square, for example, because that’s not where our core audience lives or interacts,” Dousie said.

I asked the Journal whether the paywall would be dropped on the featured articles. The answer was: it depends. Some of the ads include QR codes to drive readers to the specific stories. (All of the featured work can be found in the “It’s Your Business” collection here.) Spokesperson Kamilla Rahman clarified that “depending on a user’s propensity to subscribe, there is a chance a user clicking into a story will see the paywall and be prompted to subscribe. Other users, who are visiting WSJ for the first time, will likely get the opportunity to sample these articles for free.”

“This is done intentionally to connect the marketing funnel and engage these new audiences who have taken an interest in WSJ’s exclusive reporting,” Rahman added.

The Journal has seen turmoil in recent months, including several rounds of restructuring and layoffs despite reporting record profits. The Journal declined to confirm exactly how many jobs were eliminated, but they include roles in U.S. news, the Washington, D.C. bureau, and audio. A new podcast “WSJ’s Take on the Week” that debuted late last year was canceled and its host has left the news org.

Some have questioned the drawn-out nature of the cuts and editor-in-chief Emma Tucker’s vision for the news organization. Tucker, who became the first woman to lead the 135-year-old publication in 2023, has been consistent, at least, in what she says needs to change at the Journal. She focuses (occasionally to the irritation of newsroom) on audience data and has pushed for the Journal’s work to be less stiff, more accessible, and more engaging to a wider audience.

The brand campaign — featuring, as it does, gold bars, shrooms, and hot dogs — seems to fit Tucker’s mandate for livelier coverage. Dousie described the ads debuted Tuesday as “very much the first phase” of what the Journal ultimately hopes to roll out.

“This campaign won’t be a flash in the pan. This is an identity and a campaign line that should exist for many years to come,” Dousie said. “I always refer to election season as our Super Bowl moment — and this [election] is obviously a big one. How ‘It’s Your Business’ translates into an election context is going to be very important to us.”

Sarah Scire is deputy editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (sarah_scire@harvard.edu), Twitter DM (@SarahScire), or Signal (+1 617-299-1821).
POSTED     June 11, 2024, 10:17 a.m.
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