Alan Potts, Design & Innovations Director at DS Smith puts forward his view on augmented reality. 

With product saturation at an all time high, brands are increasingly looking for new ways to stand out in the crowd. One approach being increasingly adopted by brands is creating augmented reality (AR) experiences through primary and secondary packaging.

Whether in e-commerce or bricks-and-mortar retail, several major brands are experimenting with AR to bring their products to life and enrich the customer’s experience. Typically, this has been achieved by single QR codes that are consistent across identical packaging. However, emerging print technologies are now enabling brands to produce multiple print variations of packaging for a single product or even a unique print on every package, in a cost-effective way. This development has allowed for packaging to be printed with image variations, all of which can be scanned by a mobile device – each offering a unique AR experience. So, there is no longer a need to always use a QR code, the image acts as the trigger.

Creating a buzz

There is so much potential for this technology – a series of boxes could each feature an image of a different celebrity’s face which, when scanned, brings that person to life on a mobile device. Alternatively, a food product’s packaging could be scanned to show relevant recipe videos dependent on the different serving suggestions printed on each box.

Brands have also used AR to create mini games that earn the customer points or rewards or even designed 3D models of the product for customers to interact with. 

Ideas such as these can increase customer engagement and build brand strength. Among the millennial generation, these features can drive sales and turn consumers into brand advocates as they go online and tell their friends about the AR experience.

As well as generating a fun, immersive encounter, AR can enable brands to add elements to packaging that can’t be seen at a first glance. With traditional packaging, brands are limited about how much information they can communicate by the size of the packaging. AR enables brands to tell the story behind the product, continuing to market to consumer as they are interacting with the product and potentially still in the process of making a purchase decision. 

The other big advantage of using varied AR experiences, is that the approach gives businesses valuable insight into the personal preferences of individual consumers. Brands can use the technology to ask customers about their likes and dislikes and it provides real-time data on customers. What’s more, AR is easily measurable in terms of impact. A brand can quickly know how many people have scanned a specific image and how long they have engaged with the interactive experience. 

AR in e-commerce

Within e-commerce, AR has the potential to revolutionise the unboxing experience. Even when packaging’s exterior is plain, it can incorporate AR on the inside and draw the customer into an immersive experience. This brings a moment of magic into the home and extends the brand experience - something that is vital in e-commerce where there are no shop assistants or shop interiors to communicate brand values. The technology can help tell the brand story and connect with customers in a modern and fresh way, creating stand out from the competition.

Finally, the technology is incredibly good value and easy to use as a marketing tool. Besides the costs related to developing the app itself, AR doesn’t involve any other expenses and yet it provides insight that can play a vital role for guiding future marketing activity.

Brands are increasingly looking to packaging to deliver on multiple levels – it’s not just about protecting a product in transit and communicating vital product information. It also has a key role to play in terms of customer engagement and brand building.