Edible insects

A red and white food truck giving away waffles at the edge of Bryant Park on Wednesday attracted a steady stream of foot traffic. Even in the weekday bustle of Midtown Manhattan, people tend to stop for free food — so what if that food is topped with bugs? Most customers remained undeterred by the choice of dry-roasted crickets or dry-roasted mealworms sprinkled over a drizzle of Nutella, chocolate fudge, whipped cream or the gingerbread spread Speculoos.

“If the crickets seem too buggy, try the mealworms,” the man serving up the waffles helpfully advised. He recommended pairing the crunchy bug topping with Nutella — unless, he cautioned, you are allergic to shellfish, in which case you should probably steer clear of insects.

So what was up with the bugs? The stunt was The Economist’s latest promotional campaign. Staff outside the truck, which was branded with the publication’s logo and an offer advertising 12 issues for $12, were armed with iPads to take credit card information. The subscription offer, in addition to the low introductory rate, included a tote bag and either a handsome red leather notebook or a reusable water bottle.

The un-bylined, at times wryly humorous British weekly, which calls itself a newspaper despite looking like a magazine, has been around since 1843 (it launched a luxury lifestyle magazine named for the year of its founding last March) and has worked increasingly hard to expand its global reach in the past few years.  

As part of that expansion effort, The Economist created “live content” marketing campaigns, such as the waffle giveaway, designed to increase brand awareness and attract new readers by highlighting its stories about the global food supply. Over the summer a similar campaign gave out insect-topped ice cream.

“The waffle truck brings The Economist’s mind-stretching journalism to life and challenges potential readers to consider new ideas and solutions to the growing challenge of feeding the world,” Marina Haydn, the senior vice president circulation and retail marketing, said.

A promotional flyer handed out with the waffles included an article from the title on why eating insects makes sense as a sustainable way to feed a growing global population.

“Have you enjoyed sampling our waffle with insects today? Are you ready to digest more?” the flyer asked, before touting the content.

According to some of the team outside Bryant Park, they had been doing a fairly brisk business bringing in new subscribers (a representative from The Economist was unable to give metrics) — although one staffer added that most new subscribers were already familiar with the publication.

A man on his way to a job interview promised to swing by afterward.

“You’re going to a job interview? Then you definitely need The Economist,” he was told.

And an insect-topped waffle for energy.