Future packaging innovation will go beyond the visual appearance of the packaging, beyond the specifics of the materials used and beyond the three-dimensional characteristics of its structure. Packaging will move into completely new areas.
Too often packaging is regarded as an illustration of graphic design, as top-notch show of vivid colours and printing techniques. But aside from being the bearer of relevant and essential product details and facts, the modern consumer sees the packaging now as a fundamental instrument in his purchasing process.
Therefore, with the incorporation of electronic devices, packaging is recognized as an important and unique step in the interaction between brands and consumers. Even better it’s an upgradeable functionality, making it the perfect marketing tool. And it goes even beyond that, as it’s also the perfect technology tool.
When we talk about electronics in packaging, in general, the consumer thinks, we, the professionals are talking about QR-codes and the applications with a smartphone. Although the smartphone is an electronic device, the QR-code and its many possibilities for packaging, has nothing to do with electronics in packaging.
The QR-code just is a printed image on a packaging. Nothing special, except that it can be read/scanned by a smartphone and then start some interactive contacts. But that’s all and no electronics are built-in in the packaging to achieve this action. In my previous article I wrote about built-in electronics in packaging. Today I want to talk about QR- and similar codes, its usefulness and idiocy in packaging.
QR-Codes and Smart Phones
QR codes are providing a wealth of information for consumer brands, including expanded product information and costs savings in packaging, as products require less in the way of inserts or printed information. Complementary to this are the growing numbers of smartphones and tablets used by consumers to access and share information about products and brands. This behaviour shift has resulted in the emergence of “apps” that help guide consumer purchases and decision-making.
Thanks to these “apps”, packaging with interactive, scan-able links not only continue to grow in search of information resources, but also enable a more fanciful contact between the consumer and the brand. This trend represents a further shift in the ways that brands effectively can engage consumers.
Since the advent of the 21st century, “intelligent” packaging with QR (Quick Response) code, AR (Augmented Reality), and NFC (Near Field Communication) became commonplace. Read the article of Dr. Jay Singh in Packaging World: “Interactive Packaging”. Roughly one billion users have already downloaded a QR reader into their devices. As visual QR codes are easily created and merged into the packaging design many a CPGC (consumer packaged goods company) has included a QR code on its packaging label. They are great space-savers as they eliminate the need to have separate printing space for additional information.
The consumer using wireless media can now interface with time- and location-sensitive personalized information that promotes goods, services, and ideas. Studies indicate that 79% of smartphone owners use their phones to help with shopping, from comparing prices to finding additional product info to locating a retailer, while 70% of smartphone owners use their devices while in a store.
The current tour-de-force of the brand is to convince the customer to scan the QR-code and overcome his aversion as scanning QR-codes is not his preferred hobby. The success of this step depends on the question: “What incentive does the brand have for me, as customer, to scan the code?”
And thus, before we all jump on the interaction bandwagon, let me give you a serious warning. Indeed interest in interactive packaging has been mounting in recent years, while it might be attractive in its ability to three-dimensioning packaging, it’s, however, a big question whether the consumer doesn’t see and experience it as more than a passing fad.
The technology bears the danger that the consumer sees the packaging as a short lived novelty, or a cheap gimmick, a part of the “marketing ballyhoo”.
The conclusion has to be that the brand has to be very selective in applying this technology in its packaging. In other words it only can be used when the packaging effectively guides the consumer into new or additional territories of use for the product.
It’s not surprising therefore that the QR-code is largely considered a marketing failure. Above that the reproduction of the QR-codes on a packaging is from a graphical point-of-view an absolute failure.
All this codes, interesting to use they might be, have one big disadvantage as they aren’t visually appealing and often frustrate the high-quality printed graphics of a packaging. Fortunately if you thought the quick response (QR) code is the ultimate on-packaging consumer engagement vehicle, you are wrong. In the market of the moment there are several intriguing technologies in development that push past the square or linear worlds of QR and bar codes by layering in another aspect over functionality that’s lacking in most coding symbologies: visual appeal.
One way this lack of ‘visual appeal’ is solved, is done with the Visual QR code, designed by Visualead. The technology takes the square and ubiquitous, if not unappealing, QR code and stands it on its head as a high-interest visual element that can complement a package design scheme.
The company’s image processing system creates QR codes that convert any image or graphic into functioning, aesthetically pleasing codes designed to engage consumers. Creating a Visual QR Code with the use of the company’s Visual QR Code Generator is promoted as easy and fast, taking less than a minute. The company has introduced the Gen 2 version of its code and is planning further refinements that increasingly immerse the code within the graphics design.
With the QR-code, with or without an attractive appeal, largely considered a marketing failure, it is fortunate for the marketing boys and girls that AR (augmented reality) came along. AR doesn’t need a printed image as the app scans the actual product, which allows the “identity” of the brand to be recognized.
De combination QR/AR allows brands to show videos, recipes, coupons, games, and other interactive elements when a product is blipped. Be aware that AR needs a platform. The success of a platform is its ability to show return on investment, and the brands that use apps receive detailed analytics on what, when, and where customers are blipping.
From the point of view of the brand owner, this is an interesting opportunity to extend a brand into the consumer’s world, but it’s up to him whether he is able to interest the consumer for what’s behind the code. The PR benefits are priceless, but it still has to be proven what’s in it for the consumer.
The consumer world is full and almost overloaded with useless QR/AR applications, as companies seem to think that they might attract consumers with low-level animation and fun games. On the contrary, if the consumer good companies want to avoid a complete disaster with interactive packaging, they should concentrate on usefulness and the added value to the consumer. And that still can be fun.
In the next edition of this article I will relate about two brilliant recent examples, both of very ordinary and well-known products. The marketing departments of these companies have been able to create a useful active (interaction) packaging in relation to special events.