Smart, Attractive, and Authentic: Brand Experience and Product Authenticity
Many analysts in the printing and packaging world have spoken about the smart-and-active packaging market and its associated Internet of Things with bated breath for years. However, smart-and-active packaging was challenged by the high price of materials — such as RFID chips — and the lack of availability or demand for readers in the consumer market.
So, what’s different? The advent of the smartphone has been a game-changer for the smart packaging market. Now, consumers don’t have to be convinced to buy readers to access the multimedia content associated with a package, or to learn about a packaged product’s providence and verify the product’s authenticity. The hardware is already in many shoppers’ hands.
In April 2021, the Pew Research Center released data that showed the vast majority of Americans (97%) owned a cellphone of some kind. Of that 97% percent, 85% owned a smartphone. Additionally, high smartphone ownership cut across demographics such as age, with survey respondents aged 18 to 65-plus showing a clear preference for smartphones.
Furthermore, the software needed to read one of the most ubiquitous forms of printed smart-and-active packaging is easy to use and access as most modern smartphones offer native support of QR codes that extend the communication power of printed packaging.
Snapping to the Beat
Hector Garcia, founder and president of brand design agency MBN Creative, is a big fan of codes on packaging. His firm leverages smart packaging heavily in the food-and-beverage market.
At the time of publication, MBN Creative's client Fresh ’n Crisp Farms is using QR codes on the soft launch of its redesigned packaging. Every few months, Fresh ’n Crisp will distribute its gourmet lettuce in packaging that showcases more of its new visual identity and branding. One constant in the packaging since the gourmet food company’s start? The QR code that connects shoppers to the brand’s story online.
QR codes and their brethren aren’t only being used to inform. MBN Creative uses Spotify Codes to bring music to brand fans of Sniffin Griffin’s barbecue sauces and rubs. This particular implementation extends the core product offering because the connected playlists are personally curated by Sniffin Griffin’s founder and owner, rap artist Warren G. Let that sink in for a moment. Printed smart packaging enables consumers to have Warren G as their virtual DJ at their next neighborhood barbecue.
Smart packaging isn’t limited to bringing tunes to the old-school hip-hop crowd on Spotify. The technology is also marrying the physical package to TikTok experiences.
For the most recent back-to-school season, Calbee America, in partnership with its digital-creative agency-of-record Cutwater, created an experience called “Snap Sounds” for Calbee’s flagship snack brand Harvest Snaps. To access the experience, fans of the plant-based snacks scan the QR code on the packaging for Harvest Snaps’ Mixed Snack Pack, a bag-in-bag, six-pack offering of veggie snacks in flavors such as Tomato Basil and Crunch Loops Sour Cream & Onion.
Snap Sounds then invites consumers to create snacking-inspired music via head movements. Each movement triggers one of six beats, many of which are recorded sounds pulled directly from Harvest Snaps’ packaging and products, and decidedly ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) generators. One example is a crunching sound made from eating the snack.
Calbee and Cutwater took the experience to the next level by enabling users to add vocals, instruments, and dance choreography to create an ownable sonic identity.
In a written statement, Sandra Payer, Calbee America’s head of marketing, explains, “TikTok is the perfect platform for reaching a younger group of consumers hungry for healthier, tasty snacks and fun experiences. Snap Sounds is designed to appeal to these students, who crave better-for-you snacks and want to interact in a personal way with the brands they buy.”
Coding a Diverse Range of Packaging Types
QR codes are popping up on a wide range of printed packaging from rigid packaging seals to bottle labels and flexible packaging to corrugated boxes and displays. “I’ll give you an example,” Michael D’Angelo, president of AICC, The Independent Packaging Association, says during an interview with Packaging Impressions. “This is a box created by one of our members, Greg Tucker, but it looks like a book. When I scan the QR code printed on this box, I launch a video that shows the book opening up while a story is told.”
When asked about this packaging project, Greg Tucker, CEO of Bay Cities Packaging & Design, Pico Rivera, California, extols the virtues of smart packaging, specifically experiential packaging, and explains why now is the right time for this packaging solution. “Bay Cities has been building augmented reality experiences in apps for a decade,” Tucker says. “Our barrier to entry has always been the need for a shopper to download an app to enjoy the experience on their cellphone. QR codes were introduced to Americans more than 25 years ago. We rejected them. Then the pandemic taught us things like how to shop, different spaces to play in, and even how to eat differently at restaurants. Americans finally learned to accept and use QR codes to order food.”
Flashing his sense of humor, Tucker quips, “Without QR codes in restaurants, many would starve if they never learned how to use them.”
On a more serious note, Tucker says, “Now with QR codes recently adopted by shoppers, this barrier to entry is diminished. QR codes allow us to easily deliver an experience via a quick click on a cellphone. Now, shopping and unboxing experiences at home can be enhanced for the user with the use of AR (Augmented Reality), finally being delivered very easily. Experiential packaging now becomes effortless with digital printing, and with the experiences delivered via QR codes, consumers can now enjoy limitless interaction with the product, the brand, and even the retailer.”
Empowering Consumers Through Packaging
QR codes and their peers are also helping consumers do essential tasks, including buying groceries. In late November 2022, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), a UK-based sight-loss charity, announced a partnership with Coca-Cola Great Britain to, for the first time, make its packaging more accessible for people with sight loss. Coca-Cola Great Britain debuted a Christmas promotional multipack with NaviLens technology that enables many legally blind and partially sighted shoppers to access key product information via their smartphones.
Consumers download the NaviLens and NaviLens GO app, and then simply point the smartphone camera in the general direction of the packaging. The colorful NaviLens codes are designed to be detected at a greater distance than a standard QR code. When the NaviLens technology detects the unique on-pack code, it plays back labeling information to shoppers. This can help low-vision consumers shop independently and with confidence.
In a written statement, Marc Powell, RNIB’s accessibility innovation lead says: “Everyone has the right to know what they’re buying, yet packaging information is so often inaccessible to blind and partially sighted people. We hear from people who tell us they often rely on their memory for locating products or feel forced to ask for help. People with sight loss should have the same access and choice as our sighted counterparts, and technology such as NaviLens is a game changer, enabling greater independence.”
In December 2022, packaging food giant Kellogg announced NaviLens technology will be used for the printed packaging of four cereal brands: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Special K Original, Rice Krispies, and Crispix.
Both the front and side panels of these paperboard boxes feature NaviLens’ high-contrast codes with colorful squares, and can be read from several feet away. In addition, the NaviLens apps can read the product names, package sizes, and nutritional information to the consumer in up to 36 languages.
The smart packaging furthers Kellogg’s Better Days Promise ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) strategy, which aims to advance sustainable and equitable access to food.
In a written statement, Charisse Hughes, chief brand and advanced analytics officer at the Kellogg Company, explains Kellogg is actively working to make its products accessible to as many people as possible, and passionate, cross-functional teams were actively searching for more ways to leverage the NaviLens technology “to create a place at the table for everyone.”
Notice that Kellogg’s ESG strategy emphasizes a place at the table for “everyone” versus just a focus on the disabled. According to Jim Downham, CEO of PAC Global, which has a dedicated workgroup that champions inclusivity, equality, and accessibility in packaging, the fundamental concept behind inclusive packaging is that these innovations make packaging more accessible to everyone. He adds, “The NaviLens technology is really important for people with visual impairment, but it’s also informative for anybody.”
Ensuring Authenticity Builds Safer Packaged Products
Smart packaging can also help ensure the authenticity of packaged products, such as pharmaceuticals. Also, in November 2022, Graphic Packaging International, which has more than 100 locations globally, announced a serialization solution that can accommodate the longer, or more complex, coding requirements needed to comply with recent government mandates, such as the EU’s Falsified Medicine Directive.
The solution, developed following Graphic Packaging’s acquisition of AR Packaging in 2022, can create everything from EU codes to C128 barcodes and deliver to the drug traceability specifications that were released at the end of June 2022. Erwin Klünder, head of sales – healthcare at Graphic Packaging, notes that the codes can also be applied to country-specific formats, including Italian Bollini labels.
Because the codes prevent duplicates, they help ensure maximum process reliability and pharma-compliant data handling. Furthermore, the company reports that the new system is agile enough to keep up with evolving legislative demands and markets.
This development showcases how the advancement of smart packaging by package printers and converters is more than inspirational. It can be literally life-saving.
Packaging printers and converters that become adept at providing these high-value printed labels and packages can find the technology to also be transformative for their businesses and their brand customers. The technology not only can create engaging, often unique brand experiences and help ensure product authenticity, smart-and-active packaging can also deliver strong ROIs that are music to any business leader’s ears.