Key players in smart packaging

7 September 2017



Technology is transforming how brands and consumers interact, and with greater numbers blocking out ad content, intelligent packaging presents a hands-on way to encourage consumers to make the first move and reach out to their favourite brands. Ceri Jones takes a look at the key players in smart packaging.


The possibilities within the internet of things are so broad, which can be a challenging thing to grasp,” says Cameron Worth, founder and CEO of SharpEnd – a new type of media agency that is helping brands to meet their goals in the realm of technology. And while on the surface adopting interactive technologies into a brand may seem like a daunting concept, it is this sheer breadth of possibility and application that is inspiring developers to create some of the most original and exciting packaging concepts.

Entering into the smart packaging field requires an extra ingredient: going beyond providing a product or even the idea of selling a ‘solution’, and instead offering instant added value; a fresh way to link-up with consumers and ensure a brand has meaning to match their lifestyle. For instance, Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA) member Nathalie Muller, CEO of Linkz- IM, says that the popularity of QR codes quickly diminished as “the experience people got when scanning a QR code was disappointing”, and often provided general information that was rarely built for mobile, or was simply irrelevant.

Muller asserts that to ensure interactive packaging is more than just an expensive gimmick, it must deliver. And SharpEnd’s work with Pernod Ricard on a Malibu campaign did just that by putting near-field communications (NFC) technology into labels and, therefore, into the hands of consumers.

So what are the shining examples and, crucially, what is the real need driving investment in this field?

Tear-away success

Coca-Cola has long been at the forefront of innovation, and its Festival Bottle is a prime example of achieving phenomenal success by using smart packaging to connect with a specific audience. Research showed that as many as 40% of young people in Romania had not drunk a Coke in a given month; however, the vast majority had attended a music festival that year. In response, Coca-Cola decided to leverage Romanian teens’ love of music.

Working with its marketing company, McCann Bucharest, Coca-Cola released 21 million promotional Coke bottles with special labels. The 500ml PET bottles included a PP film wrap-around label with a tear-off bottom section. Perforations allowed a 13mm-wide strip to be cleanly detached from the main label and the ends pressed together. A hot melt adhesive ensured that the label could be easily peeled off the bottle and, once affixed around the wrist, could stay on for several weeks, withstanding activity and body moisture, making it ideal for festival wear.

But it was no ordinary bracelet. Using the Coca-Cola app, consumers could scan the barcode to find out if they had won free entry into one of Romania’s biggest and most sought-after music festivals. If not one of the lucky winners, they still have an attractive, collectible bracelet.

“Initially, the idea was for a fabric wristband incorporated into the label, but this proved too time-consuming, expensive and complex to create,” explained Gregory Bentley, packaging engineer at Coke’s R&D lab in Brussels. “That is how we started developing the wristband made from our label and hot melt glue. This solution seems obvious now, but you have to understand, nothing like this has been done before and we needed to investigate many alternatives before deciding on the most viable.”

The bands come in a choice of eight pop-art or comic-book designs and appear to be a hit with young consumers, who are not only fashion-conscious, but also enjoy wearing wristbands as mementos of summer days out. While Coca-Cola has been using music to reach the Romanian youth markets for several years – staging its own concert, music streaming and even magnetised caps as ‘kissing’ bottles – this year’s Official Wristband of the summer campaign struck gold, reaching a reported 75% of teens, increasing sales by 11% and pushing the company’s scanning app to the number one position on the iTunes App Store and Google Play.

This innovation drive may be related to the declining growth of soft drinks in recent years, with a -0.3% decline in carbonate sales recorded for the 2015–16 period. GlobalData reports that young consumers worldwide are becoming increasingly concerned about their long-term health and the perceived negative associations with sugar. “The backlash against the carbonates category in reference to sugar content has continuously affected volume and growth since 2012,” the report states. “The key brands in the category focused on premium product innovation to minimise volume and value losses for 2016, as premium products are not subject to health or cost concerns due to being viewed as a special treat.” Going forward, carbonates are forecast to be ‘stagnant with a decline of 1%’, and GlobalData believes the sugar tax is likely to continue to dissuade consumers and deepen the perception of the category as unhealthy. Can technology help stem this?

A sound investment

The fun aspects of soft drinks can be highlighted through interactive packaging; ensuring brands remain relevant to consumers, offering something extra that matches their interests and lifestyle. Embracing technology could also involve developing a multimedia content platform to reinforce existing messages and remind loyal consumers why they enjoy a particular brand.

Continuing the musical connection, Coca-Cola went back to its roots with its revamped Sprite cans for the Summer Sprite Cold Lyrics series. Special edition cans and bottles were printed with song lyrics of six chosen hip-hop artists in a campaign to create “a new way for us to shine the spotlight on cool and refreshing, lemon-lime Sprite, and these six incredibly talented artists who are making their own mark and represent the next generation of hip-hop stars,” says Bobby Oliver, director, Sprite & Citrus Brands, Coca-Cola North America. For those not aware, Sprite established links to the hip-hop community many years ago, celebrating the work of renowned artists in the genre. This relationship was the cornerstone of the latest summer campaign, demonstrating the brand’s relevance to fans of the genre.

In contrast to this niche audience was the technology itself. By opening the Sprite website on a mobile device, users could scan the lyrics on the can or code inside the bottle cap to be entered into a prize draw for a chance to win prizes such as pocket DJ mixers and wireless speakers. No app or download required, and no worries over compatibility.

But Sprite has also gained success with more conventional smart packaging. For instance, unlike competitor brands that use heat-changing icons to indicate that a beverage is at the optimal temperature for drinking, Sprite expanded on this with its ‘Chill. Refresh. Scan.’ edition cans. Using thermochromatic inks, the cans feature six different designs where an animal character is speaking in a text bubble, but only part of the message is readable. When the drink is properly chilled the first half of the message is visible, but the full slogan is only revealed when the can warms up or empties during drinking. This increases interaction in a very literal sense as the brand messages change and respond to the can being held. Plus, as a bonus, they include a scannable Shazam logo that opens a Sprite-themed video.

A whole new world

“Smart packaging is activating the product itself,” explains Worth, while “Smart spaces is about activating the space around the product to deliver intelligent services and experiences.” Intelligent packaging can add value to products themselves through identity and free gifts, but other companies are exploring brand extension and creating digital spaces to immerse consumers.

“The real trick is to tie the product experience into something overarching, at least when testing,” says Worth. “Once the smart packaging opportunity is validated, then start to look at how you can go bigger with the content/service opportunities.”

This is precisely what we see with the new Ribena interactive packages.

Lucozade Ribena Suntory’s current UK initiative, ‘Doodle Your World – Make It More #Ribenary’, is the culmination of a £4-million investment in multimedia development. The 500ml ready-to-drink cartons and bottles of squash concentrate have new designs that include a small mobile device icon stating ‘interactive bottle’, prompting users to scan the image using the Doodle Your World app, designed by Diverse Interactive.

Use of sophisticated augmented reality (AR) is what sets this Ribena app apart. Once launched, consumers can choose a cute ‘doodle’ character and use it to create unique video content. Markerless object recognition and instant AR tracking mean that while a mobile is capturing still or video images of the real world, the AR character can interact with objects in the frame. These clips can be shared via social media platforms.

“Following the vibrant redesign of our new bottles, now is the perfect time to encourage consumers to get creative with us,” says Emmeline Purcell, senior brand manager for Ribena at Lucozade Ribena Suntory. “We want to build on the fun and playful qualities of the brand and place our delicious-looking packs at the very heart of the campaign. With the added channel support, consumers up and down the country will be exposed to the tasty Ribena world and encouraged to join in the doodly fun.”

In addition, the World of Ribena is packed with a broad range of content, from black-and-white digital sketches to be coloured in online, to a ‘finger adventure’ game, a video of a singing rabbit for dancing along with, and a link to download the catchy song played on the TV advert, all aimed at entertaining adults.

Once strongly associated with children, Lucozade Ribena Suntory is redefining Ribena as a refreshing grown-up drink, championing the light varieties and summer activities to present a healthier alternative to a carbonated drink. Ribena’s video-streaming tool will appeal to the youth market, especially consumers who are already keen users of photo and video-sharing platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, and the ability to keep and share these personal stories and memories is likely to maintain a positive connection with the brand.

It’s what’s inside that counts

“You can see why connected packaging and print is taking off: being present along the whole customer journey requires the use of all media channels,” says Muller of Linkz-IM. “Consumers increasingly want to control engagement with brands. Brands need easy implementation and control over what the consumer sees related to their products. Start connecting your packaging and print now.”

However, returning to Muller’s initial point, it is imperative that companies tread carefully when extending their brand into a digital space, as the multimedia content on offer should be enriching, adding to current messages and targeting a defined audience. Using smart packaging because it’s the hot new thing, but without a clear idea of the target audience, can cause problems. For instance, Gruppo Cevico released a series of Cantine Ronco Vino Rosso Sancrispino in TetraPak’s Tetra Brik Aseptic Square cartons with injection-moulded white plastics HeliCap 27 closures. The structure makes the SanCrispino briks very convenient for drinking on the go at picnics or carrying to a social occasion.

These newest packs carry an image-scannable icon for consumers to download the Crisp Attack app from the App Store to activate an AR tool featuring the brand’s farmer character. The app also offers wine-related games, with the company’s call-to-action stating: “Become the hero of the campaign! Save the farm from the attack of the monstrous scarecrow! At your disposal are several weapons and powerful abilities that you can unlock by putting you to the test in fun mini-games. What are you waiting for?”

The sticky point here is that most of these interactive features are pitched at quite a young level, coupling wine-related tasks with games that are more likely to appeal to children than adults enjoying Italian red wine. And although this won’t negatively impact the company, it is also unlikely to yield the strong market reach achieved by other campaigns.

“With so many different things to scan and with so many possible pay-offs, it is even more important to manage this channel closely and efficiently,” says Muller. “It has to be quick and easy to update campaigns. If needed, you want pay-offs to be changeable by the hour, like when you are running a social media campaign, to encourage people to buy your product. The best way is to choose platforms that allow you to test what works for your customers, that lets you compare campaigns that use different triggers. Now is the time to get involved with consumer scanning and learn how to operate in this field.”

Sprite used new technologies to interact with its consumers in an invaluable way.


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