Just The Facts: How CNN Is Combating "Fake News" Head On

Inside the news network's "Facts First" campaign

The president of the United States has consistently attempted to undermine the public’s faith in mainstream media by labeling CNN as well as outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post as “fake news.”

Whoever thought we’d see such a day? But here we are. This is our reality.

Despite the non-stop attacks from the president and his cronies, CNN is undeterred, showing its commitment to reporting the truth via a new “Facts First”-themed branding campaign created by New York’s Figliulo & Partners.

The campaign came together quickly, according to Scott Vitrone, chief creative officer of Figliulo & Partners, who says the network came to the agency with a brief focused on the role of journalism in our democracy and the need to support a free press.

“It’s obviously important at all times, but now more than ever it’s important to support a free press,” says Vitrone, pointing out the campaign speaks to a larger issue even beyond CNN. “We felt that we were talking about journalism as a whole.”

Soon after receiving the brief, the agency presented CNN with ideas, and the marketing team at the network quickly gravitated toward “Facts First,” a straightforward slogan and platform that is tailor-made for social media and stands as a bold response to Donald Trump’s "fake news" refrain.

To introduce the concept to CNN’s viewers, the creative team at Figliulo & Partners produced a :30 spot titled “This Is An Apple,” and it does indeed feature an apple.

CNN Facts First

The piece of fruit is sitting on a white background, and as the camera slowly zooms in on it, a man’s voice states the obvious: “This is an apple.”

He then goes on to tell us that some people might try to say it’s a banana. They might even scream about it being a banana over and over again, he says, and they might put the word banana in all caps—a clear reference to the president’s Twitter style.

But none of that makes an apple a banana, the narrator concludes.

The spot cleverly points out just how ridiculous things have gotten in the war against the truth.

The agency shot “This Is An Apple” at its in-house F&P Studios. As for the creative approach, Vitrone says, “I think when you’re talking about facts, trying to be precise and simple and clear is really important, and that influenced the presentation of the ad—that’s why it’s such a sparse, simple ad. It’s not encumbered by anything.”

The question has to be asked: Why make an apple the star of the first spot in the campaign?

“We tried many, many, many different objects, and we always came back to the apple,” Vitrone says, explaining that other objects—even a bicycle—conjured up too many associations and led to some crazy debates amongst the creative team that went on for hours. “It got really strange to be completely honest.”

The apple didn’t have any negative connotations or baggage.

It’s also a symbol of learning, which made sense for this campaign. “This is my personal interpretation of why we always went back to it, but it feels like as Americans we almost have to re-learn what a fact is considering the environment today, and it’s like the first day of school. It’s like you start with an apple, and then, hopefully, you can build from there,” Vitrone says. “If we can all agree that this is an apple, it doesn’t matter what side of the debate you are on—you’re starting from equal footing and can have a true and honest debate.”

“This Is An Apple” is certainly not the news montage style spot you might expect to kick off a campaign from CNN. “I think that’s why this resonates,” Vitrone says. “It feels different and allows the message the shine through.”

The agency already has a few more “Facts First” spots in the can. “It’s going to be up to CNN if and when those roll out, but we’re seeing this as a much larger thing,” Vitrone says. “It’s a statement—‘Facts First’ is a statement that the network can stand behind.”