Sharpest in the drawer: IoT-enabled smart packaging

3 July 2018



Smart packaging will soon dominate the future of the industry, offering unprecedented opportunities for interaction between products and consumers. Cameron Worth, founder of SharpEnd – one of the internet of things’ leading agencies – looks at what these developments mean for consumers, brands and the market.


Working with the Londonbased internet of things (IoT) agency SharpEnd, Malibu recently launched the next phase of its campaign with connected bottles. The bottles incorporate NFC technology embedded into the sleeve to enhance the shopping experience for consumers by creating new digital touch points. Each bottle will carry a neck-hanger that invites consumers to tap the front of the bottle with their NFC-enabled smartphone. Apple’s iPhone 7 is NFCenabled through the iOS 11 system, which allows the device to read any NFC tag. This instantly brings another 120 million users into the scope of digital packaging.

Bottle it up

Cameron Worth, founder of SharpEnd, says, “Bottles are now media platforms – able to drive localised content that sells the product and maintains the consumer relationship. Once the bottle becomes a media platform, there are so many different things that can be delivered that are beneficial to shoppers. This provides an entirely new way to communicate with them and brings Malibu directly in front of its target audience, presenting the opportunity to drive brand loyalty.”

Colin Kavanagh, global vice-president of marketing at Malibu, says, “Following the success of our connected bottles trial in the UK last year, we are committed to continue on this journey to connect with consumers using IoT.” By tapping the Malibu sunset, consumers can unlock three digital experiences through their mobile browser, including an interactive game – ‘Shake Your Coconuts’ – that offers several different Malibu prizes to be won. Recipes for new drinks are also accessible, with videos guiding consumers on how to make the most of their Malibu drink and exclusive, downloadable Malibu-related media.

Malibu has also taken aim at the issue of queuing in bars via an IoT application, providing an on-demand drink delivery solution. Called ‘Coco-nect’, Malibu’s connected coconut cup is incorporated with state-of-the-art technology that allows it to communicate directly with the bar. The cup sends a signal to bar staff that a fresh drink is needed and it can then be prepared while the user carries on socialising. The cup flashes in sequence to symbolise the various stages of the ordering process. The cup uses Wi-Fi and RFID to ensure that the staff is then able to deliver the right drink to the right customer.

Looking FOMO

While this kind of innovation could clearly shake up the way drinks are served in a range of environments, Malibu is naturally targeting clubs, bars and festivals. Deborah Nunez, Malibu’s joint global marketing brand manager suggests that the new company’s interactive cup is less about bar efficiency and more about improving the user experience at events where bars are usually too crowded. “Traipsing to a crowded bar to face a lengthy queue for drinks can put a real dampener on any social get-together. Our research shows that FOMO – or the ‘fear of missing out’ – can be a very real frustration for young people who do not want to miss out on the fun of the party,” she said. Nunez’s colleague, Hedda Helgesen, added that Malibu’s new ‘Coco-nect’ cups will mean that customers may never need to miss out on fun again. “We have successfully trialled ten prototype cups this summer and will be looking to roll them out commercially in time for next year’s summer festival season,” Helgesen says.

Earlier this year, Jameson also took a leap into the NFC arena. The whisky campaign involved a limited edition bottle to mark St Patrick’s Day, in which the pack had a crest equipped with NFC technology. When users tapped the bottles with their NFC-enabled phones, they were granted access to instant prizes and giveaways. “Capitalising on the development of IoT, Jameson is engaging with consumers in a fresh way. Igniting a consumer-led desire for experiences from brands and products,” says Taryn Casey, global head of digital at Pernod Ricard.

Inspiring further invention

Much is being written about the topic of IoT, and it has the potential to be a complete game-changer technology for packaging companies. However, as with most new developments, it can often be misunderstood and its applications and potential lost in the ether. One of the most outstanding success stories has been Cameron Worth’s SharpEnd, which has multiple projects and exciting developments under way. Although, by the very nature of being cutting edge and at the front of brand campaigns, its upcoming work cannot always be discussed in great detail, Worth agreed to explain the overview for those who haven’t yet realised the potential.

“Our core engagement is getting brands to connect directly with consumers in new ways, without prohibitive costs. We look at how to get people to pick up the product and imagine using it, or making the experience of using it fun, so that they buy it and more closely engage with the brand,” he says. If the company knows in what context consumers pick up the pack, there are enormous benefits for brand management teams. “This is a very new space and we are fortunate to have engaged with likeminded clients who share our belief in what this can be.”

For those who want to see examples of what SharpEnd does in person, beverages are a great starting point, as The Absolut Company and its brands Malibu and Kahlúa, are its longest-standing clients. “We share a drive to connect consumers in new and exciting ways, and trust that we each bring specific skills to the table that support one another. I am afraid that a lot of what we do is protected by strict non-disclosure agreements, but Malibu has committed to furthering the cause, and is happy to engage with the global market and inspire further invention.”

Where to next?

Worth says, “NFC has a very bright future. I’m sure lots of people say this, but there are innovations happening around the materials of NFC tags that are bringing the costs down exponentially. It’s therefore making the tech much more accessible to largescale manufacturers of low-margin and high-volume items. Apple is also clearly on the way to unlocking full NFC reading capabilities on its devices, and that is going to be another milestone. I would warn brands that if they only start investigating NFC when Apple unlocks it, they will already be a little too late; there is a lot of preparation that can be done.”

Brands continue to move from an overreliance on blanket messaging to personal brand equity with consumers. Worth believes other companies will enter onto the network and activate brands and products at global scale using a suite of tools and technologies. While Apple does its own thing, Worth suggests that contemporary agencies launch with a view to scale or create demonstrable campaigns and activations rather than simply latching on to the latest IoTrelated fashion or fad.

Malibu’s ‘Coco-nect’ is fitted with technology that allows it to communicate with the bar


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