AR – bringing brands and packaging to life

Brands are beginning to look beyond the humble QR code to deliver more immersive AR experiences, a trend which new print technologies could rapidly accelerate. Alan Potts, design & innovations director at DS Smith, explains.

According to a study by Future Market Insights, the global QR code labels market is currently worth $996.8m and forecasted to expand at a CAGR of 8.7% from 2019-2027. This boom will be driven by innovative mobile technologies which make it easier for consumers to scan codes, and faster mobile internet speeds to power the richer content behind them. But while QR codes make a comeback, image recognition technology is fuelling rapid growth in brands offering augmented reality (AR) experiences.

Offer a richer brand experience

Brands are under pressure – product saturation is at an all-time high and whether in e-commerce or brick-and-mortar retail, they are looking for new ways to stand out in the crowd. Offering a unique AR experience through primary and secondary packaging is an increasingly attractive proposition.

Typically, to offer a mobile experience based on a product’s packaging, brands have used single QR codes that are consistent across identical packaging. However, more recently, emerging print technologies have enabled 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 packaging to be printed with image variations, all of which can be scanned by a mobile device – providing a far broader range of potential AR experiences for customers. What’s more, it is no longer necessary to use a QR code; an image can act as a trigger.

Fanta’s AR codes were scanned more than 93,000 times

Image recognition has been used to generate some standout marketing campaigns by leading brands across the world. For example, gin brand Bombay Sapphire created an AR experience using the bottle label as the activation point. When scanned, the label revealed an animation, representing the essence and character of Bombay Sapphire in augmented reality. Customers could then watch exclusive video content, showcasing a mix of different Bombay Sapphire cocktail recipes.

Similarly, Fanta used AR as part of its takeover campaign. Customers were able to scan Fanta packs for the chance to win prizes and unlock twelve face-filters to create their own unique Fanta personality. These funny faces could then be shared online with selected selfies being displayed in Fanta’s follow-up advertising campaign. The codes were scanned more than 93,000 times, with users spending over a minute engaging with the augmented reality experiences.

Creating separate and unique experiences at volume

So, image recognition technology can unlock AR potential for brands, but these examples are still based on scanning a single, uniform image. What if different images each led to their own separate and unique AR experience?

Let’s look at some hypothetical examples.

A food and drink brand could print multiple serving suggestion variations on its external packaging which, when scanned by a mobile device, offers an AR experience with a chef or expert describing how to recreate that specific recipe in the home.

Through new print technologies, cost and speed are no longer limiting factors

A fashion and beauty brand could identify a series of characters, celebrity endorsers, or influencers – each printed on individual variations of a product’s packaging, offering consumers the chance to virtually ’meet’ each person dependent on which box type was scanned.

The ability to create these types of experiences has been limited to date not by mobile technologies (image recognition has passed the stage of being an emerging technology), but by the prohibitive cost of printing variations of packaging at speed and volume.

Through new print technologies, cost and speed are no longer limiting factors – large volume print runs can be carried out just as easily and cost-effectively for individual packaging variations as they can be for single designs.

Developing immersive experiences inside packaging

AR can also help online retailers transform the unboxing experience in their home. Even if packaging is plain on the outside, AR can be incorporated on the inside - again thanks to the latest print techniques - 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, allowing brands to stand out from the competition.

Measurable marketing: an insight into personalisation and engagement

Perhaps the biggest advantage of employing AR experiences is that customers can provide businesses with valuable insight into the personal preferences of individual consumers. During a specific experience, brands can ask customers about their likes and dislikes and acquire real-time data on their customers. It is also highly measurable in terms of impact and so brands can easily know how many people have scanned a specific image and how long they have engaged with the interactive experience.

Using AR to tell a brand’s story and communicate its values is a key way in which packaging can really deliver for a brand. Emerging print technologies are now offering the potential to take this one step further and put the choice, for the first time, in the customer’s hands.

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