The New York Times launches AR campaign capability ahead of Winter Olympics

The New York Times' AR experience mobile editorial Team USA olympic games

The New York Times’ AR experience

The New York Times has launched its first ever in-article augmented reality campaign, spotlighting Team USA athletes ahead of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Korea.

Available within the publisher’s app, the feature allows users who are reading an Olympic-focused article to experience athletes in 3D by activating their phone cameras and pointing towards a flat surface. At key moments in the written story, the text fades to reveal an image of an athlete, including figure skater Nathan Chen and hockey goalie Alex Rigsby.

Walking around the 3D figures opens up new points of view and more information on their expertise. For instance, Austrian snowboarder, Anna Gasser, is featured executing a jump, which prompts the screen to encourage the user to walk the 60ft she travels, creating a physical idea of distance.

The experience is peppered with visual highlights that light up when the user walks around the virtual object. It’s a strong example of a brand nudging the consumer towards the behaviour of interacting with digital realities from a UX standpoint.

Graham Roberts, the publisher’s head of immersive storytelling, told AdWeek that it was imperative to develop an integrated approach that didn’t require downloading a different app or leaving an article to engage with – and thus, treating AR like any other piece of media consumers are used to interacting with. “There’s a whole language that needs to be learned on both sides, the producers and the consumers,” he said. “It’s almost like introducing the mouse for the first time; it’s a new way of interacting with something.”

The activation also includes a 3D view of ice dancers Alex and Maia Shibutani, sponsored by Ralph Lauren.

According to Jared van Fleet, director of new business at the publisher’s in-house experiential agency, Fake Love, the market for augmented reality within advertising is quickly picking up speed: “The first brands that we saw that were really excited to experiment were largely in categories like fashion or auto: brands that have premium physical products,” he said. “A lot of brands are starting to understand that they need to begin to build a strategy for how they’re going to communicate their brand in 3D, whether or not they’re B2B services or B2C physical products, in all kinds of forms.”

Van Fleet is also optimistic about what this means for consumer adoption of the technology: “When a brand with the distribution and credibility that The New York Times has gets into AR, we start to reach an audience that we haven’t really yet engaged with this technology. Any kind of new medium or technology is developed with iterations that take into account user behavior and understanding how people are responding.”

Working on this campaign was experiential agency Fake Love, who scanned the athletes for 3D rendering, and the publisher’s in-house content arm T Brand Studio, using Apple ARKit.