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Electronic-enabled packaging: beyond the label

 Cyber-age marketing solutions use packaging as a vehicle to connect consumers with information- and entertainment-rich multimedia content on smartphones and the Web.
What do you get when you combine a consumer society that is increasingly mobile, global, and “linked in,” one that demands the delivery of data to their fingertips 24/7, with packaged goods producers clamoring to differentiate themselves on and off the shelf? You get a new breed of smart packaging that leverages the world of electronics, i.e., smartphones and the Internet, to inform, entertain, protect, and connect with consumers beyond the printed label.

In mid-2009, The Freedonia Group forecast that the demand for active and intelligent packaging would climb 8.3% annually, to $1.9 billion in 2013. It predicted that intelligent packaging would witness the greatest expansion, “propelled by ... the emergence of smart packaging systems offering product differentiation, traceability, or various interactive features at more cost-competitive prices.” Just one year later, the examples of intelligent, interactive packaging are growing almost exponentially.

Today, consumer packaged goods companies large and small are engaging in new and affordable technologies such as mobile marketing and Augmented Reality (AR) to more effectively communicate with consumers, while adding some powerful pizzazz to their packaging.

Smartphone marketing savvy

Five years ago, Japan pioneered the use of 2D bar codes capable of being scanned by smartphones to deliver additional information to users, who found the codes on signs, in magazines, and on packages, among other places. Today, the practice is ubiquitous. “About 70 percent to 80 percent of the phones in Japan now come with a reader,” explains David Javitch, vice president of marketing for Scanbuy Inc., a technology provider for mobile marketing, “and about that many people actually scan bar codes on a regular basis.”

Now it’s the U.S.’s turn. Javitch estimates that in the last three to six months, the use of smartphone mobile marketing technology has exploded, finding favor not only with smaller, entrepreneurial packagers but also with more traditionally risk-averse mega brands. “We had more scans come through our system in July than we did all of last year combined,” he relates. “So overall, we are up about 600 percent to 700 percent from the beginning of the year. Certainly the growth is moving pretty quickly at this point. Based on what we have seen, the U.S. is one of the leaders in the second coming of this technology.”

For AC Golden Brewing Co., a subsidiary of MillerCoors located in Golden, CO, the launch of its new Colorado Native Lager last April coupled with SpyderLynk’s SnapTags™ technology provided an ideal opportunity to connect with consumers in a new way. “We wanted to reach our consumers where they are—and that’s on their cell phones,” says AC Golden president Glenn Knippenberg. “They don’t watch TV ads anymore, or read newspapers, or really listen to radio—they prefer their iPods, etc. They get and share information via their cell phones. Our goal was to start a relationship with our drinkers. Not talk at them with marketing messages, but rather, talk with them about things they were interested in. They are defining what Colorado Native is to them; they are driving the conversation and the relationship.”

Described by Knippenberg as an “affordable” option for “a small brewer,” SnapTags is a brandable, application-free alternative to 2D mobile bar codes that turns the marketer’s logo into a mobile gateway to additional content. The Colorado Native Lager SnapTag includes a stylized “C” inside a printed circle that appears on bottles, glassware, coasters, and six-pack carriers. Consumers use camera phones to snap and text a photo of the SnapTag to a phone number that appears with the logo. The SnapTag response is returned to the consumer via a text or multimedia message.

For the Colorado Native Lager application, developed with the help of communications firm Metzger Associates, users first receive an age-verification request, after which an interactive text-based “conversation” unfolds on a range of constantly changing topics. Among them, Colorado trivia, sports, upcoming events, and more. Periodically, SnapTags reveals giveaways and promotions. AC Golden is also planning to involve its SnapTags users in the selection of a nonprofit charity for its upcoming “cents-per-case” program.

AC Golden is the first company to use SnapTags on retail packaging, and Knippenberg reports that consumers are just snapping it up. “They really like the beer and are having fun snapping and chatting with us and with each other,” he says.

Last summer, another, bigger beer brand burst on the scene with a mobile marketing sweepstakes that used Scanbuy’s ScanLife 2D bar-code application. For its “Plug Into Summer” campaign, Heineken used SMS (Short Message Service) codes and 2D bar codes on all packaging for its Heineken and Heineken Light beer, including six-packs, 12-packs, and cases.

“Heineken consumers are sophisticated, socially progressive, and highly tech savvy,” says Afdhel Aziz, Heineken brand director, digital, PR, and brand activation. “Mobile technology developed in conjunction with custom smartphone applications offers the Heineken consumer new experiences and new ways to engage socially via technology and viral tactics that are so integral to their lives. State-of-the-art mobile technology extends adult consumer engagement with Heineken while providing retailers with new tools to offer added value to their customers and improve their own bottom line.”

The SMS directed consumers to text a numeric code found under the cap to a short code to redeem exclusive music rewards that included music downloads, Fender guitars, and t-shirts. To employ the 2D bar codes, users were asked to text a keyword to another short code or visit the Web site to download the 2D bar-code reader application. (Note: As 2D bar codes become more prevalent, more phones are being preloaded with the scanning software.) Once they installed the application on their smartphone, users could take a picture of the bar code to be linked to a mobile site where they could download three free applications: the Music Challenge personalized trivia game; the Know the Signs sobriety test for iPhone; and the Taxi Magic taxi locator for iPhone.

According to ScanBuy’s Javitch, the ScanLife solution goes a step beyond what is being done in Japan by offering the ability to gather data and analytics from consumer scans, when the consumer opts in. “We are giving marketers a lot of data so they can really understand what type of content people are engaging with, what type of media they are interested in, etc., as well as some consumer demographics.”

Interestingly, one takeaway from collecting such data that Javitch shared with Packaging World is that “there is no overwhelming demographic age group” using this technology. “Seventy percent of the scans are done by people from 18 to 45 years old, and they are all split pretty evenly,” he shares. “It’s really something that anyone can use.”

A valuable anti-counterfeit tool

While mobile marketing can provide CPGs with new, dynamic and creative avenues to reach their customers, it can also be employed for much weightier tasks, including track-and-trace and brand authentication, especially within the pharmaceuticals market.

According to the World Health Organization, counterfeit drugs are a growing global epidemic, particularly in developing countries, where between 10% and 30% of all drugs are fake. Last February, pharmaceutical distributor Biofem Pharmaceuticals Ltd. of Nigeria, in cooperation with Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), began a trial of mobile technology for authentication of one of its drugs to combat counterfeiting.

The trial began with 500-mg packs of Merck Santé s.a.s.’s Glucophage product for Type II diabetes, which had been the target of counterfeiting the previous year. Biofem, with Merck’s backing, employed the Mobile Authentication Service™ from Sproxil, which allows consumers to check the authenticity of their medication through the use of a scratch card and a cellphone.

As Biofem managing director Femi Soremekun explains, there are six sachets, or blister packs, in every carton of 500-mg Glucophage. On each sachet is a scratch-off label. To determine the genuineness of the drug contained within, the user scratches off the covering on the card to reveal a unique item code. This code is then texted to a static short code, and instantly the user receives an SMS reply regarding the product’s authenticity.

The free MAS service is available anywhere there is a mobile signal in Nigeria and is compatible with the country’s three largest mobile networks. Commenting on the prevalence of cellphones, Soremekun tells PW that there are more than 150 million people in Nigeria, and “teledensity is about 60 million users,” he says.

To date, more than 800,000 packages of Glucophage have been coded, and Soremekun says that “for now, it has helped in identifying products that have been compromised by fakers.” The next phase, which adds scratch cards to Merck’s 1,000-mg Glucophage product, will begin shortly, he adds. Ultimately, NAFDAC hopes to expand the initiative to all other drugs at risk of counterfeiting, including those distributed from hospitals and clinics.

AR brings immersive experiences

Another exciting new electronics-enabled technology taking the CPG world by storm is Augmented Reality (AR). Moving from computers to monitors and now to smartphones, AR is described by Wikipedia as “a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual, computer-generated imagery.” Offering what she calls “the most mundane example” of AR, Paula Rosenblum of Retail Systems Research points in an article on AR to the yellow “first down” lines seen on TV during American football broadcasts. “In other words, the field of play is augmented by a digital image of the plane that must be crossed for the offense,” she explains.

In January, PW reported on an early AR application from protein beverage maker CytoSport for its Muscle Milk brand (see The limited-edition bottle carried a marker code that, when held in front of a Webcam by consumers, appeared to have a three-dimensional image of basketball player Shaquille O’Neal popping out of it.

Another, perhaps more practical application of AR is the use by The Lego Group of what it calls its Digital Box kiosk, developed with technology provider Metaio, which launched last April in all 43 of its worldwide retail locations. When customers point a product box at the Digital Box monitor, it takes a picture of the graphics and renders them in 3D, displaying what can be built with the Lego blocks inside. The constructed Lego buildings and other kits appear to sit atop the box, and as the user moves and tilts the box, different dimensions and areas of the structure are revealed. A video on YouTube illustrates how the system works:

Says Torben Nielsen, director of 3D technology from the Lego Group’s Digital Development Department, “The Digital Box helps consumers get a better impression of our products. We’ve had very positive feedback from our stores and customers. Thanks to Metaio’s technology, we can excite and inform our customers on a new level.”

Newest AR wave is interactive

Moving the technology even a step further, a number of CPGs have now created packaging with interactive AR features. One very successful promotion by Procter & Gamble for the World Cup allowed consumers of its Pringles product in Asia to partake of two interactive, three-dimensional games via Webcam (see Says P&G snacks external relations manager Kay Puryear, “The AR technology fit with our target consumer for the World Cup Soccer Pringles initiative in China—young people aged 18 to 24. It is a new technology, especially in Asia, and is viewed as ‘very cool’ and trendy to this audience. It was also a good fit with the Pringles brand equity of being playful and fun, and it was easily executed with the Pringles can.”

From April through June, all of Pringles’ chip packages in Asia used the Mr. Pringles logo as an active marker to activate the game. Users first would download a free software application and then place the Pringles can about six inches in front of their computer’s Webcam to begin the game. In the first level, the can became the “mouth,” and the player could move the can to control the mouth to eat Pringles chips. In the second, the player could move the can to control a soccer player to kick.

Puryear says that cost for the technology, including the AR game development and the digital media investment, was “moderate,” but yielded pretty positive results. “In three months, there were more than 1.7 million visitors on brand zone in SNS [Chinese strategic news service], and around 60,000 unduplicated players for the game,” she says. “The total number of players was more than 70,000.”

While P&G cannot reveal specific sales results of the promotion, Puryear does share that “the Pringles business in China was significantly higher during April, May, and June of 2010 than the same period one year ago.”

Stealing the AR scene in the U.S., The Coca-Cola Company launched a massive, 30-country promotional campaign in conjunction with the release of James Cameron’s blockbuster 3D adventure movie, Avatar, in late 2009. The promotional tie-in featured a specially designed Web site,, in conjunction with cans and fridge-pack cartons of Coca-Cola Zero, as well as branded movie popcorn bags and beverage cups printed with the “AVTR” mark, capable of activating AR content on the site—from either a Webcam or camera phone. In the U.S. alone, more than 140 million cans and 30 million fridge-packs carried the AVTR marker. (See the television commercial at

The Web-based AR application enabled the user to interact with 3D motion graphics of a Samson helicopter, a vehicle featured in the film. A release from Coca-Cola reads, “Once unlocked, consumers can use a computer keyboard to trigger different actions including: shooting a missile, maneuvering the rotors of the helicopter and shooting its guns.”

Now AR has advanced to the point where markers have become unnecessary. A recent application by Ben & Jerry’s, using Metaio’s Unifeye Mobile Software Development Kit® (SDK), is programmed to use the iPhone camera to “look” for existing visual patterns on the product packaging, explains an article from MarketingVOX. Ben & Jerry’s AR platform is dubbed Moo Vision and renders fun facts and more about the product on four of the company’s best-selling pints. (See

Batteries required

From delightful applications in beverages and food to more critical functions in the pharmaceutical arena, electronic-enabled packaging is ushering in a new age of smart packaging that brings dynamism to formerly static objects. Expect to see this trend taking over the shelves, and in the meantime, keep your batteries charged.

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