‘A vessel dashed to pieces by a whale.’ This was how the true story that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was first reported in The Times in 1821. When we discovered that the Oscar-winning director Ron Howard was focusing on the doomed tale of the whaling ship Essex in his next blockbuster Hollywood movie, In the Heart of the Sea, we contacted Warner Bros Pictures with an audacious plan: to recreate the original Times reporting as a special souvenir poster for our 1.4 million Times readers in print, online and on their digital devices.
We know that Times subscribers and readers are uniquely loyal to the news brand; a third are regular readers and the average subscription is purchased for more than six years. Taking a slice of history from the Times archive and sharing it with our current readers would therefore be hugely engaging. Our challenge was to ensure the project also raised awareness and interest in In the Heart of the Sea.
To do this we secured a media first position in The Times for the poster as a special panoramic half-wrap. This wrapped the paper and folded out to twice the height of the modern Times, and included additional media space we used to promote the film.
Authenticity was Ron Howard’s watchword for In the Heart of the Sea so we had to ensure our souvenir front cover of The Times was as authentic as possible.
We decided to recreate the poster using 19th-century printing processes. We contacted Sue Shaw, founder and trustee of Stockwell Type Archive, who – with Stan Lane of Gloucester Typesetting – developed an entirely new cast of original Times fonts using a monotype process, and created a page that wove together original articles from the time of the sinking of the Essex, including The Times’ reporting of the death of Queen Caroline, and original classified advertisements. We also commissioned period etchings of a still from In the Heart of the Sea and the original Times masthead.
The final wrap featured our original souvenir poster as well as an exclusive interview with Ron Howard and production notes on the making of the film.
We recreated the artwork online and on digital devices and filmed the printmaking process. A framed print of our souvenir page now graces Ron Howard’s wall in his Los Angeles home.
The campaign had a profound impact on our Times audience. In one day we reached 1 million people in print, 150,000 online, and more than 75,000 on digital devices.
86 per cent of Times readers really enjoyed the campaign, with 77 per cent saying they felt more positive about In the Heart of the Sea as a result.
And after seeing the campaign, more than 84 per cent of readers took action – with 45 per cent searching for more information about In the Heart of the Sea, and 40 per cent pledging to watch the film in the cinema: over three times more than the general population (26 per cent).
Awareness of In the Heart of the Sea grew by 145 per cent (from 20 per cent to 49 per cent)
- 86 per cent of Times readers liked the content
- 72 per cent said they were more likely to watch the film as a result of seeing the content
- 69 per cent would like to see more content like this in The Times
- 84 per cent of readers took action after seeing the campaign:
- 45 per cent researched the film further
- 40 per cent planned to watch it at the cinema
- 23 per cent planned to read the book by Nathaniel Philbrick on which the film was based
- 1000000 People reached in print in 1 day
- 86% Times Readers liked the content