The Economist is helping audiences consider what their meals might look like in 30 years through the use of augmented reality (AR) – a project part of it's annual The World If supplement, which plays with future global scenarios.
It marks the publisher's first foray into AR, in which audiences use Snapchat to see a 'plate' of alternative food on their table in front of them, along with infographics explaining the implications of each food choice.
Tom Standage, deputy editor, The Economist, explained that the move celebrated the 175th birthday of the publisher – a big change from where the news organisation started in the Victorian era.
"We looked at AR 18 months ago, and at the time we couldn't really see how we could build something – there wasn't a platform we could deploy it on," he said.
"This time around, we prototyped various ideas as stand-alone apps, but then realised we could actually deploy things within Snapchat – which appealed because we don't have to get people to download an app."
The New Product Development Unit, which works on a new explorational project every six months, started to create Snapchat filters with Kabaq, a startup based in New York which specialises in food.
"We knew we wanted to do something in AR, and we knew we wanted to align it with The World If, as we imagined a bunch of future-gazing projects that we could do," he said.
"I particulary liked the idea of table-top AR for our 'future of food' project that considers the alternative sources of food including insects, algae and artificial meat -– ultimately, people aren't going to eat something that looks completely disgusting, so giving people a chance to see on their own dining tables what these foods would look like is exciting."
When users add the snapcode to their app, they can see the food on their table, but can also tap to get an animated infographic that pops up, along with a minute-long piece of audio commentary.
"We didn't realise just how sophisticated Snapchat filters could be," he said.
"You can do so much inside a filter, it is a really neat platform – and I am sure there is only going to be more possibilities in the future."
The publisher used its print publication and social channels to promote the snapcodes.
"You're not going to discover the AR filters by accident, like you might do if you were to stumble across our content on Snapchat Discover," he said.
"So, rather than bring in a new audience to The Economist, this will drive our existing audience to Snapchat so they can try the AR.
"We've now started to talk about what other projects we could do in AR, and we now know what we can and can't do – that's the point of a project like this, for us to think about how we might use a new technology within our journalism, and the best way to find that out is to just try something and see what happens."
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