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Rethinking Packaging with a Digital Lens

by Nick Dormon on 11/18/2022 | 5 Minute Read

Packaging labels, especially those on the back of packs, are becoming overloaded with information to the point where the consumer can’t decipher what's what anymore. Worst still, consumers' interest wanes, and brands can't communicate what they want clearly and effectively.  

Increasingly, consumers want to know more about the products they buy. Is it gluten-free, or does it contain palm oil? Is the company ethical? As we progress towards ESG (environment, social, and governance) and other sustainable standards being a central part of brands—and as socially responsible brands become a key driver in consumer purchasing decisions—businesses will begin to communicate their credentials on pack. But with the current content overload, on-pack communication must be re-cast to ensure that important messaging effectively reaches consumers. 

Beyond the label, integrated digital technology is now getting developed as a solution across a wide range of labeling needs. 

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The QR Code Renaissance 

Technology is an integral part of our daily lives, and it's slowly beginning to revolutionize packaging. Oddly enough, it was the pandemic that saved the QR code from extinction as phones replaced unhygienic menus and their impact on the way brands have been able to communicate with the consumer. While on pack, the visuals of a QR code are mostly functional—it’s a gateway to the digital world that enables brands to convey their narrative to a consumer. And between brand and consumer, a new avenue of communication is opening up. 

In a world where phygital (a blend of the physical and digital) applications are increasingly becoming a powerful tool to deliver meaningful experiences, Blippar is making headway using artificial intelligence to take existing on-pack brand assets and create dynamic, unique content. Pepsi Max, during the 2014 World Cup, incorporated this technology to make each drink can become a virtual soccer game. Once scanned, users could score goals and unlock exclusive access to behind-the-scenes football videos and a "Pepsi Beats" album. Unsurprisingly, this digital brand experience amassed huge swathes of engagement.

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But it isn’t just about the physical product. The pandemic accelerated our reliance on e-commerce—after all, it's the future of retail. And integrating this technology through on-pack to online allows the consumer to connect with the brand across multiple touchpoints. Consumers can engage with a digital story on a website or app, divorced from the packaging, which enhances the brand experience. That is critical to driving brand engagement and creating a unique narrative that gives brands a competitive edge. But to cut through the noise of the increasingly busy online world, there needs to be a coordinated approach between each touchpoint of the user journey.  

A Case for Inclusivity 

Of course, there are practical applications to utilizing technology on-pack. As text and icons become smaller and get crammed onto tiny labels, it is difficult for those with visual impairments to read, making it less accessible to many consumers. Not only this, but the labels that contain this information themselves can be challenging to peel off and reveal—it may tick regulatory boxes, but it is not user-friendly.  

Once again, technology becomes the enabler; Kellogg’s cereal brought in NaviLens to enable partially sighted shoppers clear access to hear and read information via their devices like ingredients, allergen contents, and product recycling details. Where braille illiteracy is a growing concern, technology is fast replacing it. By assisting those who have difficulty translating information on the pack, such technology opens up more inclusivity—empowering users and building trust between audiences and the brand. 

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The Consumer is in Control 

Rather than facing a product replete with jargon, technology gives users a chance to explore the different facets of a brand, granting access to information that enables them to make decisions. The mutual benefit also comes into the brand. They can design an integrated digital journey for the consumer to enjoy while more space is left on the pack to communicate what it needs to more clearly.  

Crafting a Sustainability Story 

Environmentally, translating on-pack information to an online portal can optimize and reduce packaging. Not just this, but as the consumer demands more transparency from brands, this virtual portal can open up new doorways to clear communication. Although the credibility of regulatory symbols grants trust, they can lose meaning amidst the glut of information. When this comes to ESG, how will a brand be able to communicate the myriad of credentials if there lacks room to do so? 

Weaving the two together comes back to how we tell stories. No one will read an accreditation, but they will read a story. The issue is, usually, certifications get forced with mandatory standards that render them uninteresting and dull. If we are to change this narrative, design needs the freedom to express a brand story while still meeting the requirements.

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Photo: Depositphotos

Technology is Packaging’s Future

As with any area of innovation, multiple strands develop for various needs and with many technical developments, and it can all get confusing. Regulation then steps in and rightly attempts to rationalize, but often with the result that frameworks can become too fixed and the communication unengaging. Brand teams have always known how to project a clear and appealing brand expression on the front of the pack. 

They now need to do the same with the back of the pack and weave together these strands of product and packaging information, ESG, and inclusivity through physical and digital mediums to guide the consumer to the information they need that's both engaging and interactive. 

So with all the user benefits, why isn't this widely accepted on-pack yet? It is not just down to the regulators; to be successful, brands need to use the digital space and coordinate it in a way that works for the consumer and ticks all the boxes. Brands must take a market-wide approach to implement digital solutions from the outset or risk marginalizing consumers further. Within that, it must be consumer-focused so that the consumer can see what needs to be seen—something beyond the jargon.

These solutions may be integrated gradually, but they are happening. The quicker brands can ride the wave, the more successful they will be in creating an engaging brand experience. 

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