Do printed publications really need augmented reality?

21 : 08 : 2017 Digital : Media : Technology
W Magazine September 2017 Issue

Is augmented reality creative or merely a tempting novelty trap for print brands?

Josh Walker, journalist, The Future Laboratory

For its September issue, Condé Nast’s W magazine promised to blend ‘the printed page with the virtual realm’. Using augmented reality (AR), the magazine allowed readers to bring the cover, editorial features and other content within the print magazine to life, through short films and AR-enhanced content.

‘This augmented reality experience embodies everything that W stands for,’ says Stefano Tonchi, editor-in-chief of W. ‘It’s bold, provocative and offers a truly immersive escape, across print and digital platforms.’

While adding augmented reality to existing media might feel like a push away from tradition, especially in the case of print media, does it really do the existing media any favours in the long run?

In 2015, we warned brands against jumping on the bandwagon of hipster marketing in our Anti-authenticity Marketing macrotrend. Instead, we urged brands to look for a new lexicon to breathe life back into their messaging. In the case of print, which carries multiple traditional connotations, finding a balance between pushing print into new places and avoiding cliché becomes even harder.

Instead of using AR to enhance the reading experience, what’s stopping publishers from creating a more meaningful, independent experience?

There is no denying that print is struggling. In the face of falling advertising sales and the relentlessness of the digital world, it is having to be creative, and AR might seem a feasible answer. Brands across all sectors are harnessing AR in innovative ways. By 2023, AR is expected to have a total market value of more than £47bn ($61bn, €52bn), according to Markets and Markets. But is the medium really creative or just a tempting novelty trap for print brands?

First, it has been done before. In 2015, Garage magazine, with the creative assistance of The Mill, brought AR to its covers through its smartphone app. In May 2016, The New Yorker trialled something similar. Instead of using digital realities to enhance the reading experience, what is stopping publishers from creating a more meaningful, independent experience?

US Vogue recently teamed up with Google to launch Supermodel Closets to coincide with its September issue. Using virtual reality, it invites viewers to take a 360-degree look inside the wardrobes of supermodels. To date, the series has amassed 3.3m views.

As one of the first productions to use high-quality VR-capture Yi Halo cameras, Supermodel Closets is an interesting example of a publisher using new technologies to support its printed publication without directly interrupting the reading experience.

As we move towards an era in which AR, VR and all the other realities become more commonplace, brands will need to cater for a more marketing-savvy consumer. Instead of jumping on the digital bandwagon, perhaps we would do well to let AR stand on its own, as supportive but separate digital content, and let print be print.

For more on how your brand can move beyond the cliché and find its own authenticity, see our Anti-authenticity Marketing macrotrend.