By Steve Osborne, Managing Partner, Osborne Pike
Packaging was once famously dubbed the 'silent salesman', a reference to its role as a mute object which nevertheless tells a powerful story.
By adding layers of emotional storytelling to an often generic product inside, packaging is responsible for creating what I term user anticipation.
This is far more than being reminded of advertising for the brand. By its very proximity to the product, packaging is also able to perform an almost magical trick known as sensation transference, where the perceived attributes of the pack (elegance, clarity, naturalness, slimness etc) become transferred to the perception of the product, and the brand. In other words, how smoothly your scotch pours from the bottle will actively influence how smooth
you think it tastes.
But with new digital technologies such as augmented reality now being applied to packaging, it is perhaps time to see it in a more contemporary way: as a user interface and a major part of the user experience.
Lego was one of the first brands to use fledgling augmented reality technology to allow consumers a 360º view of the finished model, simply by scanning the pack with a smartphone.
Digital enhancements permit truly immersive storytelling, such as Ardaich's use of augmented reality to illustrate its defining theme of 'the water that whisky drinkers choose'. The bottle (or in this case an image of the bottle) tells the story, and then bottles it back up afterwards, so it truly does augment the impression of what is contained inside.
This successfully extends the concept of sensation transference described earlier and opens the door to a new world of packaging-based user experiences.
The digital touch also gives consumers reasons to keep coming back for more - as with Heinz Tomato Ketchup's use of blippar technology on-pack, to inspire Ketchup lovers with a virtual recipe book.
As designers and brand owners explore the possibilities that augmented reality technologies can unlock, packaging is gaining the potential to communicate brand values at a new, heightened level.
Suremen have transformed their deodorant cans into game controllers which, when pointed at a webcam, let (freshly deodorised) players face a range of adventurous challenges from mountain biking to water skiing, all in a bid to win cash prizes or sports gear.
Canada's Lassonde have also done this with their Oasis brand, using augmented reality to turn the Tetrapak juice carton into a virtual goalkeeper in the Oasis All-Stars soccer game.
Meanwhile Red Bull encourage drinkers to collect their cans and line them up to create a virtual racing track. Using an iPhone to photograph the front of the cans for calibration, an app generates a virtual version of the track which can then be raced with a virtual car - probably one of the clearest incentives to consume more product I have yet encountered.
Digitally enhanced packaging is changing the way we experience products and brands. It is adding to the user anticipation and user experience that great packaging already delivers. But it needs to take care that it enhances what the brand already stands for, not replaces it with a short-term technology hit.
In Thomas Hine's book, The Total Package, Hine reminds us that 'advertising leads you to temptation, but packaging is the temptation'. With the possibilities afforded by new digital technologies, these two media could effectively become combined in self-promoting packaging. Hardly the silent salesman anymore then, but for those occasions when the design aesthetics are more than enough, I hope they remember to add an 'off' button.
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