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There are many emerging trends and new technologies breaking into the world of consumer goods and packaging. For companies that successfully adopt and embrace them into their products, the opportunity for clear differentiation in an often crowded marketplace is huge.

Connectivity represents one of those opportunities. Clever, pragmatic approaches to ‘connected packaging’ can greatly enhance the user experience, generate increased loyalty, and customer pull. The market is quickly realising that connectivity is an option at all price points, across many sectors and categories. 

Truly premium products, where the price/margin can accommodate additional device cost, are now able to deliver radical and rich user experiences.

Luxury brand G.H.Mumm recently developed an ‘intelligent’ champagne bottle. It was aptly launched in Monte Carlo on the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix last summer. A Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip, triggered by a sensor in the cork as it ‘pops’, connects to the lighting and sound system in the private club, which centres attention on the table opening a fresh Magnum. This amplified social experience was inspired by the F1 podium celebrations and fits with the long-standing association the champagne brand has with the event. It distinguishes an already premium product into something truly bespoke and tailored, and provides that magical wow factor.  

Where budgets are tighter, novel new ways to gain this differentiation have been developed, with varying success.  Budweiser Brazil created ‘Buddy Cups’, which connect people via their Facebook profiles, triggered by a cheers gesture of two ‘intelligent’ paper cups.  Whilst more a marketing activity than a truly realisable mass-market proposition, it did generate huge amounts of PR for the brand. Adding wirelessly connected technology provided Budweiser with a totally new way of interacting with their customers, whilst delivering a genuinely new experience integrated within a traditional drinking ritual.

For everyday packaging solutions, where even a small production cost increase is hard to justify and the growing trend is for more environmentally responsible packaging, the challenge of justifying a more tech-laden approach is significant. The options are of course more limited, but potentially no less ground-breaking. Passive Near Field Communication (NFC) and Augmented Reality are currently king, with Brands leveraging the capabilities of the smartphone more, and using this as their route to a differentiated connectivity experience. Where QR codes have largely failed, NFC may well succeed.  Holding your phone in close proximity to the package will always trump trying to get your phone to correctly read the code.

Diageo recently launched its limited edition Johnnie Walker Blue Label ‘smart bottle’ that comprises a NFC tag. The bottle knows when it’s been opened and can share this status information with a smartphone App. Diageo gain data about when and where the drink is consumed to understand behaviour better, and their customers benefit from targeted offers, new cocktail recipes and brand updates.

Heinz was an early adopter, back in 2011. Using their iconic ‘keystone’ label design as the trigger, customers could access a host of App-based recipe ideas simply by pointing their smartphone camera at a Ketchup bottle. This is connected packaging with a twist; no increase in packaging cost and no environmental impact. 

Perhaps the most immersive, most complete approach to connected packaging that we’ve seen so far is McDonald’s Australia’s “Track My Macca” campaign. By identifying that the source of their food was not truly understood by their customers, and that this was impacting their market penetration, they set about creating an immersive App experience that allowed their customers to find out the origin of the food they were eating. Triggered simply by the customer pointing a smartphone at the packaging, the App then launches an augmented reality world, configured around what is on the tray. Combining GPS with image recognition technologies, the App provides a partially animated world, with insights from local farmers and producers. The customer experience is entirely bespoke, and nicely aligned with the customer meal experience. 

But what is most impressive is the way McDonald’s used this technology as part of a much larger marketing campaign. The track and trace capability message was used as the foundation for a substantial PR campaign, building trust with their customers and directly addressing their critics. They acknowledged that the demand for food sourcing accountability is quickly becoming a sensitive subject, and that by openly embracing connected tracking, they were able to promote a clearly differentiated position.  

All of the examples we’ve discussed above are early experiments into our future connected worlds. It could be argued that some are more marketing hype than real user benefit, yet the one thing they have in common is that they all try to offer an enhanced user experience. All the brands deserve recognition for investing time and energy into exploring this brave new world, and we anticipate many others to embrace this often-daunting new frontier.

Multinationals are starting to recognise what motivates consumers to connect more deeply with their brands. Initially, connected packaging was very much a ‘technology push’, now we’re starting to see ‘consumer pull’ as the ‘Digital Natives’ generation increase their purchasing power and influence. 

So whether your brand needs to connect more deeply with its users, provide an innovative point of difference, or simply to stay modern and relevant - new technologies might be able to help, particularly as they become more ubiquitous, affordable and adaptable in delivering these goals.


Next week Chris Houghton is attending the Packaging and Converting Executive Forum Europe (PACE) in Amsterdam. Chris is also speaking at Packaging Innovations at the NEC later this month and would be happy to discuss your experiences and opportunities in this space. If you would like to talk to Chris about connected packaging or if you’d like to meet him at PACE or Packaging Innovations please email or call 01223 264428.

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