The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Washington Post airs its first Super Bowl spot

Tom Hanks voices The Post's 2019 Super Bowl spot. (Video: The Washington Post)

The Washington Post debuted 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, aired 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 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 story behind the ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’ slogan and its historical significance

The advertisement briefly showed several slain and missing journalists affiliated with The Post and other publications. They included 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. The CIA determined, with high confidence, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

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 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 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.”

Immediately after The Post’s ad aired , the video was published on its website and social media channels.