Is Connected Packaging The New Communication Channel?

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In December, ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s teamed up with Snapchat to launch their new Cookie Dough Peace Pop Ice cream line. All users needed to do was scan a pack of ice cream and open up an augmented reality lens.

The campaign aimed to traverse digital and physical spaces. After scanning the pack, users are transported to the Ben & Jerry Festival, where they can watch “live” performances by Woody, Ben & Jerry’s cow. If users turn the lens around, the AR Snap filter applies an eighties retro look that users can experiment with and share on their social platforms. The campaign uses playable packaging, which is a fun application to an otherwise functional technology. 

In the food packaging industry, for example, intelligent packaging is not a new concept. Companies have been using it to track products across the supply chain to the point of sale. Using electronic chips, RFID tags and QR codes, it informs manufacturers about delays and damages.

Today, connected packaging finds applications in almost all retail product categories, including toys, cosmetics, games and clothing. Brands are leveraging QR codes printed on the packaging to open a dialogue with consumers. By encouraging users to scan, they can be redirected to consumer more engaging content like recipes on food ingredients, instructions for use like on medications, led to social handles, websites, forms and specific landing pages for cross-selling. The timing couldn’t be better.

During the pandemic, brands and services introduced consumers to the touch-free benefits of QR codes. Restaurants offered no menu and requested patrons to scan for details, payment options too offered easy contactless options. Consumers are now comfortable with this behavior change. It also gave brands a seamless route for data collection.

Leading brands stand apart by using this technology not just for marketing promotions but to tell their story and invest in brand-building. Augmented reality works as a complementary technology to bring visual stories alive. Wikitude, a Qualcomm company, worked with Jim Beam to create an AR-powered app. Once users downloaded the app, all they had to do was hold their phones over the label. Using the bottle as the stage, seven generations of brand history would come alive through dynamic audio and 3D visuals. The brand was able to tell their story through milestones and newsbreaks, and the consumer had a chance to be a part of that history.

Consumer electronics brands are also using integrated packaging to drive trust. Premium packaging company JohnsByrne worked with a mobile brand that wanted to convey how their camera offered superior quality pictures, even in low lighting. To drive the messaging home, the phone came in a “low light” box. Consumers could take a picture of these boxes to see the difference in quality that the phone offered. The mobile manufacturer was able to make their proposition and interact with the consumer all at once. By being able to confirm the quality of the low light camera right away, consumers instantly gained trust in a brand.

Brands have scope for added impact on sustainable packing practices too. This feeds into the new expectation for brands to align with consumer values. Call it the existential angst as a result of the long days stuck at home during the lockdown but consumers prefer brands who care about their carbon footprint. Designers may have an important role to play here. As highlighted at COP26 in Glasgow in November, food waste contributes to the carbon footprint. Imagine if food brands could give consumers an assurance that food will stay fresh for longer. According to experts, the war on plastic will be more nuanced in the future considering its role in promising food durability. Connected packaging that can keep track of best use-by dates, inform consumers about their efforts towards environmental sustainability and engage in a two-way dialogue with the user can be a competitive advantage for a brand.

Speaking of brands that do good, Unilever’s brand of antiperspirant for men and women – Degree launched an inclusive deodorant for people with disabilities. Its hooked container was designed for one-handed usage, enhanced grip placement and magnetic ‘click’ closures to make it easier for users with limited grip or sight to be able to remove and replace the cap. A larger roll-on applicator achieves a greater surface area per swipe. The label includes instructions in braille. Inclusivity is pegged to be one of the biggest drivers in design for 2022.

The future lies in intelligent packaging, using Near-field communication or NFCs, a set of communication protocols for communication between two electronic devices. NFC offers a low-speed connection with a simple setup that can be used to bootstrap more capable wireless connections. NFC technology is also more resistant to cloning, meaning it prevents counterfeiting and enables authentication of the product, further driving trust.

Currently, the costs associated with NFC are high, which is the reason it has been limited to high value-low volume products. British energy drink company Lucozade achieved sales worth $15M when they ran a campaign to build awareness about the brand in 2017 at a busy metro station. The brand released 5,000 promotional bottles fitted with a chip at the bottom that paid for the user’s metro ticket. Consumers could sip on their drink while using the chip in the bottle at the station’s entry barriers at London’s underground network. The chip acted as a contactless payment channel, and the campaign encouraged consumers to “find their flow”.

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