Bald man with shampoo

(c) Smoke and Mirrors


There are lots of technologies to enable consumers to interact with packaging. So why don’t brands use it more widely? And would it be useful for you?

Early November I was at the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA) World Congress in Amsterdam. On display were many amazing technologies to make packaging active and / or intelligent.

Active packaging tries to solve a clear problem: currently one third of all food produced is lost or wasted from farm to fork, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Intelligent packaging that tracks goods is also addressing a clear pain point, just ask any retailer where their goods actually are. Similarly authentication and anti-counterfeiting solutions, with the counterfeit goods market currently around $600 billion/yr, rising to nearly $1 trillion/yr by 2021. These solutions are largely used by retailers and brands themselves.

But when we get to the consumer end it is not so clear where the problem currently lies. Counterfeit formula milk or cosmetics masquerading as that of a trusted brand could be inferior and potentially harmful, and surely consumers would like to check authenticity. FMCG packaging that gives discounts, connects to fun games, useful or exclusive information, what is not to like? Content-wise you are only limited by your imagination because if it is digital you can link your packaging to it.

So why are brands not connecting their packaging en-masse to digital content? At the conference there were some interesting case studies of marketing campaigns using NFC-enabled spirit bottles, yogurt pots linked to games and packs of chocolates allowing you to win heart-stopping experiences, but no evidence that brands are falling over each other to make their packaging interactive for consumers.

Why not? Because there is no consumer demand for it yet.

There are two key reasons. Firstly, consumers are simply not aware that packaging can be interactive. Unless it has a very clear call-to-action consumers don’t expect there is more to packaging than meets the eye. Secondly, most importantly, the value consumers get from interacting is not sufficient. In the early days of QR codes in marketing they often linked to desktop sites, unreadable on a mobile phone. Often the company’s home page, as if that was the point of engaging with the pack! Augmented Reality (AR) pay-offs are definite improvements, as at first they always surprise, but there isn’t always a longer-term value for the consumer. Whilst this may not matter for the marketing campaign, it does matter for the consumer for whom the next purchasing decision is less swayed by another “wow” experience.

In the absence of consumers asking for interactive packaging brands cannot see a clear ROI. To be fair, marketing departments have had a lot of new technologies thrown at them over the past decade. They have to understand rapidly changing consumer buying behaviour, be able to engage with consumers 24/7 and be omni-present in new and old channels. Adding packaging as yet another consumer engagement channel with its own set of technologies may be a bit much.

But here is the crux of the matter. Packaging is a key consumer engagement channel, and quite a cheap one at that. It’s already out there, totally under the brand’s control. Once consumers have a pack in their hand, they are much more open to the brand’s messages, be they in-store or post-purchase. Digital interaction with packaging is much easier to measure than views of TV ads, impressions of Facebook ads, views of billboards. And it allows for a two-way conversation rather than a one-way monologue, as it is much easier for consumers to give feedback to a brand via an interactive pack than via traditional push advertising.

The key to getting consumers to interact with packaging is to offer them real value.

At the congress I ran an “idea hackathon” (or “workshop”) with a group of very knowledgable and enthusiastic participants. Together we arrived at a list of what kind of content could be of real value to consumers:

  • financial gain: discounts, loyalty schemes, prizes
  • convenience: connection to other (lifestyle) apps or services, how-to videos, instant re-purchase
  • security: product authentication, back story, information
  • (emotional) connections: social messaging, sharing, reviews
  • relevance to a person’s needs: personalisation, tailoring of services.

Let’s get back to the original question. Is interactive packaging a solution without a problem? No, it is not. Packaging is a key consumer engagement channel and brands that want to win customers have to use it strategically and offer real value.

What real value is depends on the market, the geography, the product, the brand itself. Therefore interactive packaging won’t be of strategic use to everybody! In our experience it is useful for your brand if you have

  • a story to tell (sustainability, heritage, origins)
  • a passionate audience (new parents, health, fitness, sport)
  • complex products (DIY, b2b, health)
  • multilingual markets
  • captive audiences (hospitality, airports)

So, do you know what you want your packaging to say? Do you want to test what works for you? Or just understand better what the options are? We can help you find out. After all, that is why we started Linkz.