As digital technology transforms the ways in which we interact with information, commercial messages and brands, the new design buzz is all about users: how to improve their interfaces (UI) and their experiences (UX), and in doing so heighten their attachment to the provider.
As the original User Interface for brands, packaging has always been a gateway to the User Experience, otherwise known as consuming the product inside.
Now QR codes and other digital technologies are dramatically increasing the connectivity between a brand’s packaging and its marketing: far from being the ‘silent salesman’, packaging can broadcast its own advertising, make you an offer too good to refuse, or take you to an entertaining microsite, all with a quick swipe of the smartphone.
But in adopting these new bells and whistles, companies need to see beyond the initial gimmick value and ensure that the extra functionality truly builds a brand experience, strengthening existing consumer stories about the brand rather than tacking on some gratuitous entertainment.
Back in the day this same question was asked of what were then called ‘Sales Promotion’ companies, with mixed results. I still have my Brooke Bond Choicest Blend ‘Choicest Collection’ cassette tape, though of course no means of playing it.
Nowadays I might be the lucky recipient of a ‘mass personalisation’ promotion like a can of Heinz ‘Get Well’ soup, a clever combination of old-fashioned (soup) values with a contemporary, social media-powered brand experience. Like it on Facebook? You bet I do!
Smartphone technology now enables data from social media profiles to craft special offers and information customised to individual preferences, current location and language. Even junk mail with a fake handwritten opening line ‘Dear Muggle,’ has a far better response rate than that addressed anonymously, so imagine how much more engaged we’ll all be when our packaging works out what we had for breakfast last Tuesday.
On a more pragmatic level, wouldn’t it be nice to do away with multi-lingual packs? Just hide the ingredients of toothpaste in Slovenian and 10 other languages in a smart app, and let those who really want to know look it up. The technology is available, though I’d like to think that in the case of this road sign the graphics were already clear enough!
If gaming is your thing, then what better way to enhance your drinking experience than a drinking game that combines a board made from the six-pack, bottle caps as playing pieces and a QR-activated smartphone app for dice and task cards?
Heinz’s use of a virtual recipe book for tomato ketchup is a clever combination of smart technology with useful and relevant information provision, presumably aimed at early adopters of both QR readers and ketchup as a cooking ingredient.
But perhaps the most powerful way in which packaging enhances user experience is summed up perfectly by Thomas Hine in his book The Total Package: ‘Advertising leads you into temptation, but packaging is the temptation’.
Going with the flow of all things user-centric, I’ve invented my own buzzword for it – ‘User Anticipation’ (UA), and this is where I believe the best opportunities for digitally-enhanced packaging exist.
In a nice example from a pack format that hitherto hasn’t been much on display, Tsubo’s shoebox shows the product being worn on the catwalk.
The brave new world of digitally-enhanced packaging has only just begun to be imagined, and it will change the way we experience products and brands. It can add to the quality of ‘User Anticipation’ that great packaging already delivers, but it should take care that it indeed enhances what the brand already stands for, not replaces it with a short-term technology hit.
Steve Osborne is co-founder of Osborne Pike.