Today’s consumer wants to be engaged, informed, and entertained by the brands with which they do business. Paperboard packaging has been able to facilitate these important marketing functions with its flat, printed surfaces that are well suited to deliver cutting-edge interactive product information, in-store sales, entertaining games, and more.
The most ubiquitous of these technologies is the QR (Quick Response) code. Seen today on packaging, commercial publications, billboards, and even on T-shirts, these codes send consumers to a product or company’s website or social media page once scanned via a mobile app.
Even though the 2013 holiday season saw a 33 percent increase in QR code triggers over the previous year, as of late, there has been much debate as to whether consumers actually glean value from QR codes. In fact, many pundits suggest that QR codes are a dying technology as they are cumbersome and inconvenient to use. Today, consumers simply aren’t willing to take the time to pull out their phone, open the app, steady the screen over the product, take a photo, and wait for a website to load. Furthermore, many QR codes bring consumers to sites that are not mobile optimized or do not have a direct connection to the scanned product. Nor do brand owners want to eat up valuable brand real estate with both a UPC and QR code.
Although the fate of the QR code remains unclear, several new mobile technologies are poised to overtake the interactive packaging market by streamlining the consumer experience. They include:
New image recognition apps such as Ricoh’s Clickable Paper and Google Goggles (an app that allows users to learn more about a location or product from a smartphone photo) allow for direct mobile interaction with a package, thereby eliminating the need for a separate scanable code that eats up precious branding space and distracts from a package’s design aesthetics. After scanning a package enabled with Clickable Paper technology, the consumer can access links to websites, video, charts, maps, blogs, shopping carts, product reviews, and other important data. Thus, unlike a QR code that only brings the consumer to a single website, these image recognition apps connect consumers to a wider variety of content.
Geolocation—a method for targeting consumers using their location—is now emerging as a valuable tool for understanding customer behaviors, driving traffic, and increasing revenue. With this technology, a downloaded third-party smartphone app will notify nearby consumers about store coupons, special gifts, and sales. Businesses can also create a “geofence” around a competing store so that when a consumer with a smartphone enters that region, she or he will immediately receive a coupon to purchase a discounted product from a competing business.
This technology also helps brand owners and retailers to track customer wait times, number of visits during certain times of the year, engagement with special in-store displays, etc. Although this technology does not have a direct relationship with packaging, it can enhance a CPG’s understanding of which types of packaging and displays are most effective in driving sales.
Touchcode has developed an invisible electronic code that is printed directly onto a package. By simply touching the encoded package with one’s smart device, the consumer’s screen comes alive with engaging product content. Again, this technology provides mobile interactivity without affecting package design. Furthermore, it is marketed as a way for consumers to verify the brand authenticity of the products they purchase.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality apps allow consumers to train their smartphone or tablet on a package and then view superimposed computer-generated images that provide additional information about the product. Consumers may even view images of the unboxed product before making a purchase.
Regardless of whether AR will gain enough traction to become commonplace in retail environments, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which AR plays an important role in shopping rituals.
Consider Google Glass, a head-mounted computer, worn like a pair of glasses, which allows users to see webpages, photos, etc., in their fields of vision. If Google Glass represents the future of smart device usage, just imagine the possibilities for AR. With a single glance, consumers wearing such a device could walk through a store and find the retail shelves alive with vibrant, three-dimensional images and compelling information.
Smart packaging consists of two distinct areas: active packaging, which provides functions such as moisture control, and intelligent packaging, which communicates product changes and other information. The pharmaceuticals industry is predicted be the fastest growing smart packaging market in the coming years, driven by the aging U.S. population, an increase in chronic diseases, and the expanding presence of temperature-sensitive drugs. For packaging, this means a growing need for anti-microbial and self-venting packaging solutions, as well as packaging that features time-temperature indicator labels.
Near-Field Communication (NFC)
Not as widely used in packaging, NFC is a term for an exchange of information between two devices. With this technology, an NFC chip is embedded into a package so when a consumer with a NFC-enabled smart device approaches, product information is automatically transmitted from the chip to the consumer’s phone. Although large amounts of data cannot be stored in the chip, it can provide simple information such as discount vouchers, website URLs, or email addresses. Most likely, this technology will be used in the future as an easy way to purchase products or to turn on or off TVs, lights, right from your phone.
Although marginal today, the above technologies clearly reveal the direction in which interactive packaging is heading. As QR codes represent a promising yet poorly executed idea, these new technologies aim to simplify and optimize the consumer’s experience. Luckily for our industry, no matter where these technologies move, paperboard will continue to be the packaging medium best suited to engage and delight potential customers with its ability to easily interact with our ubiquitous mobile devices.