Dangerous Idiocy In Packaging Interactivity

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With the AIPIA “Active & Intelligent Packaging World” Congress just weeks away (to be held in Utrecht/the Netherlands 18 and 19 Nov) I want today reflect on some critical notes in regard to dangerous idiocy in packaging interactivity or in other words the sometimes idiocy in the connectivity of packaging.

Don’t worry, I have not the intention to discuss the generally expected and predicted (second) bubble burst in Silicon Valley, (attend the AIPA Congress and you experience the festive party mood like it’s 1999, including the soaring high rhetoric) but I want to talk about the potential danger that the consumer is becoming fed up with the stupidity of marketing actions invading his privacy by the lack of proper functional content via connectivity, a bombardment of spam and the lack of security features in apps.

While earlier hackers once were only just interested in proving their wiles, today hackers are financially motivated. According to tech security firm Proofpoint, cyber criminals have found a target-rich environment in poorly protected internet-connected packaging that may be more attractive and easier to infect and control than PCs, laptops, or tablets.
In a recent attack, hackers took over some 100,000 smart household appliances (think packages) and used them as “botnets” to send out waves of 750,000 malicious email communications.

“They’re taking data for money now. That market has become very sophisticated in its ability to take and sell data”, stated Tom McAndrew, executive vice president of professional services at Coalfire Systems, a cyber-security assessment firm, in an interview with Design News.

That means that connecting with the consumer via a packaging is a serious matter, for both parties, full of possibilities and chances, but also easily drowned in pitfalls.

According to a recent statement from Nestlé: technology is fundamentally changing the way consumers buy its products and engage with its brands and that is, of course, valid for all and every consumer packaged goods company (CPGC) in the world.

And Nestlé continues with: “As technology is fundamentally changing the way consumers buy products and engage with brands, there is a need to create highly engaging and meaningful experiences online”.
The keyword here is “meaningful”

Again from the press release: “They [the consumers] engage with brands they trust and those that allow them to make personal connections. Traditional one-way “push” advertising is a thing of the past.
The keyword here is “trust”.

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To fulfil the consumer need for “meaningful, trustworthy experiences online”, Nestlé is setting up a digital innovation team with staff drawn from the company’s marketing and technology groups, moving into an office in Silicon Valley.

In contrast to this serious approach of the opportunities of interactivity and connectivity between consumers and packaging/brand of Nestlé (and without doubt many more CPGC’s), we also see in these days the pollution of the market by consumer goods companies, using the interactivity solely for fun and other nonsense promotions, endangering the acceptance of social interaction by the (young) consumer.

I want to remind my readers of the disastrous failure of the QR-code, a perfect example of a failing high-tech approach to the consumer. It never was and never will be popular with the consumer. Too many steps and various apps in an unfulfilling process have the potential to lose customers, and convolute a brand’s promise.

And if the marketing boys and girls of the consumer packaged goods industry aren’t careful and acting responsibly, the 24/7 connectivity with the consumer through packaging is going the same way and becoming an absolute and expensive failure.

Be reminded that Gen-Z and Gen-X (Millennials), together by far the largest demographic, like to keep it simple. And as the contemporary consumer is overly busy and time-strapped, he has to be selective and isn’t interested in useless and time-wasting connections with websites, which he just sees as a covert way to try to sell him crap he didn’t ask for.

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The “glorious” introduction of the interactive Medea Vodka bottle as an “innovation” and mindlessly hailed by the international packaging media, must be classified as one of the “shameless” pollutions of this area.
Brandon Laidlaw, founder of Medea Vodka, stated that “Our customers are thrilled the bottle can be personalized. People are eager to share the uniqueness of the bottle with friends and family”.
But asked by BeverageDaily.com, whether consumers aren’t ultimately more interested in the product than the packaging”, his answer showed a gross negligence of the primary interests of the consumer, as he responded with: “If that were the case, we would simply ask them to try our vodka”.

This is typically one of those marketing stunts with a backlash.

It’s nice for a one-time night out and to test it in the disco or bar. After that comes the hangover as the consumer realises that he/she has squandered his/her privacy details to some unknown company, which starts to bombard him/her with spam. And that only for some short-lived foolish fun.
The danger is, like it was with QR, that the tech-savvy contemporary consumer (Gen-Y and Gen-Z) will skip any interactive connection through packaging as they are well aware of the risks of loss of private data through mal-functioning and unsecure apps from dubious companies.

It’s impossible to quantify the risks, but they are clearly there.

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The marketing pollution of the interactive packaging world can, for now, freely continue, as the biggest difficulty is that companies haven’t been confronted with catastrophes to take security seriously, as most of these threats are still on the horizon. This means getting security wrong has, for the moment, no impact on a CPGC’s reputation or its profits. That will undoubtedly change in the near future.

Up till now the packaged goods market is only confronted with some funny incidents, like the Heinz ketchup blunder. You don’t know it? Here it is: The marketing boys and girls of Heinz had the brilliant idea to include a QR-code in a promotion “designing your own label”. Apparently they had never heard of the “life-cycle” of Heinz tomato ketchup. After the promotion expired, so expired the related website. Even if the bottle was a leftover, it’s still in lots of households.
A German consumer scanned a promo label to get information about ‘designing your own label’, but was directed to German porn site Fundorado, leaving Heinz red-faced after it became world news.

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That might just leave Heinz red-faced, but in the near future it will move to much larger and profitable targets.

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Maybe an extreme (and non-packaging) example but certainly the Ashley Madison debacle (if you have been living on another planet, read about it here) is still on everybody’s mind. Ok, the hacked customer privacy details of Nestlé, Unilever, Kraft-Heinz or whoever might not be shameful and result in suicides, but it can completely destroy the trust the customer has in a company and can lead to the end of the consumer goods manufacturer.

Eight in 10 consumers (80%) say they are more likely to buy from consumer products (CP) companies that they believe protect their personal information, yet only 37% believe that these companies are adequately doing so, according to a new Deloitte (deloitte.com) study, “Building Consumer Trust: Protecting personal data in the consumer product industry”. Nearly six in 10 consumers (59%) state that a single data breach would negatively impact their likelihood of buying brands from a CP company.

Eight in 10 consumers (80%) say they are more likely to buy from consumer products companies (CPGC) that they believe protect their personal information, yet only 37% believe that these companies are adequately doing so, according to a new Deloitte (deloitte.com) study, “Building Consumer Trust: Protecting personal data in the consumer product industry”. Nearly six in 10 consumers (59%) state that a single data breach would negatively impact their likelihood of buying brands from a CPGC.

The irony of the huge marketing potential of interactive packaging, and thus social media, is that the billions of users have broken down communication barriers and have made in fact the world smaller. In other words, a blunder in the security of (p.E.) a Unilever app somewhere in the world will be commented within minutes everywhere in the world. It is the year 2015 and consumers voice their applause, their disdain or concern on a massive scale.

You think the Ashley Madison scandal is an exception and can’t occur in the interactive packaging world. Well, think again.

(I took this example from “The Economist”):
Barbie has come a long way since its launch in 1959. If children wanted to give the original version a voice, they had to provide it themselves. The latest Barbie, unveiled at the New York Toy Fair in February, can do better. A built-in chip lets the doll listen as children address her. A wireless connection then sends what has been said, off to a data centre, whose job is to interpret it and come up with an apt rejoinder.

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“Welcome to New York, Barbie”, says a Mattel employee in a demonstration video.
“I love New York, don’t you?” responds the doll and continues “What’s your favourite part about the city? The food, the fashion, or the brothels and sex clubs?”

Well, of course, Barbie did not actually offer the last alternatives. But the very idea that a malicious hacker, wanting to amuse himself or just blackmail (ransomware) Mattel, the manufacturer, might have instructed her to do so.

The problem is that for every interactive packaging the consumer needs to download an app to get to the centre of the interactivity, but many of the apps developers have little or none experience with the arcane world of computer security. They are happy when the app is functioning without bugs and throw it at the client without even considering security features.

One of the arguments that people make when claiming that the risk is low is that hacking requires significant skill. Although that is true, once a vulnerability is discovered and the attack created, it can be replicated against thousands and thousands of devices, and after posted on the internet others can repeat the attack.
Keep in mind that embedded devices (interactive packaging) are mass produced and are all exactly the same.

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Interactive packaging is hot, it’s trending, and you would think that there is no product in the world that does not merit being presented in an interactive packaging.

Well, consider the following? At Gigaom Roadmap Robert Brunner of design studio Ammunition argued that the consumer feels himself living in an era of “confusion and ill-conceived stuff”. He denounces the ill-conceived hype for interactive packaging, saying: “Adding connectivity and some high-tech “fun” to everything, isn’t necessarily doing the consumer any favours. For him [the consumer] many “things” are just fine in their unconnected state”.

There have to be considerations for where the interactivity of packaging may simply not make business sense. The cost of a mistake can be very high.

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