How Augmented Reality is Revolutionizing the Packaging Industry


Years ago, a box was a box. It served three main functions; to hold, protect and ship products. When a package arrived on your doorstep, you opened it, tossed the box aside and didn’t give it a second thought.


Now imagine receiving a box in the mail. You open an app on your smartphone and point it at the box. Immediately, a video springs to life; it tells you the story of the company or shows secret behind the scenes images. Maybe you're able to play a trivia game, see inside secrets, or view additional nutritional information.


It’s called Augmented Reality and you may have seen it in big brands like McDonald’s who transformed their French fry packaging into a net and football game or the Red Bull can that let you build your own race track. But what if you could take this interactive technology at a smaller scale and put it into your brand’s packaging?


What is Augmented Reality? Let’s start with defining this term.

Augmented reality (AR) is a way to use technology to turn your passive print into an active experience. Simply put, AR is a link within your packaging that creates your very own media channel you can update, personalize and measure in real time. This incredible technology offers an innovative way to interact with your customers and provide a unique experience even after the box is opened.


AR holiday house


How does it work?

There are several ways to incorporate augmented reality into packaging, labels, textbooks, and posters. At our partner (and guest author of this post) CompanyBox, they use HP’s Link technology which embeds a unique digital mark or QR code (either visible or hidden) on the outside of the box. By using the camera in your smartphone or mobile device, an AR application allows the user to interact with animations, videos, text or computer-generated images. The link offers you the ability to create content that can be continually updated, keeping it fresh and thus inviting repeat customer engagement.


Why should I use it?

Your product is sitting in an unrealized mobile marketing channel that has been dormant in mailboxes, store shelves and countertops. With traditional packaging, customers are limited to the information they can find from the packaging itself, which means you are restricted by what you can fit on the box. Packaging has come a long way in the last 10 years, where we are seeing unboxing videos flood the web. Think of this: the outside (and inside) of your branded box is prime real estate. It is a place to promote your brand and increase engagement.


Augmented reality is just another way to increase this engagement. Now you can add elements that can’t be seen with the first look. The big advantage is this: since the content is virtual, you can update the content without needing to recreate the packaging.


"This aside, a report from SuperData projects that  mobile augmented reality will become the primary driver  of a $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021  with AR taking the lion’s share with $83 billion and VR $25 billion."  -Click to Tweet-

6 Augmented Reality Packaging Applications

  • Give directions

As the saying goes: "a picture is worth a thousand words." If your product needs specific instructions, augmented reality could be a fun way to explain things. Show how to put on that new makeup product, how to play a game or how to correctly install a lighting fixture.


Nespresso uses this feature to show how the machine can be used and what their products look like when ready to drink. With this, they can leverage the space on their packaging and provide more consumer information, thus expanding their impact.


  • Show behind the scenes

People want to do business with companies who are upfront, honest and REAL. Authenticity is one of the most important factors consumers look for when deciding which brands to support. If you can be transparent and show the people behind your business, especially in an episodic format, it makes customers feel connected to you and they come back looking for more.


  • Tell a story

A story can be informative or purely for entertainment purposes. Either one will increase engagement. Share the story of how your company started or how people are using your product. Maybe take it in a different direction and show an animated cartoon.


Treasury Wine Estates’ 19 Crimes added a dash of fun into something they call ‘Living Labels’ on all their wine bottles. Through your phone, you come face to face with infamous convicts from the start of 1783 to hear their side of the story. Less than a minute long, with seamless animation the app is proving to be a powerful point of sale for the company- and it would be a crime not to give this AR a try.


  • Give a useful visual

This is a great one for products that need to be assembled. The company who does this best is Lego. When scanned, their boxes come alive, providing a way for kids to see the virtual Lego creation, how the set will look and the general size of it when completed.


lego AR


  • Include recipes or ingredients

If your product is a food or beverage, imagine being able to include a virtual recipe on the side of your box. One that you could update or change just like you do a website. Do you sell coffee or liquor? Include suggested cocktail recipes. If you ship pasta or spices you could include a recipe one month and a cooking video for the following month.


  • Include special promotions

Everyone loves a deal, but an interactive deal is even better. Perhaps, set up a game like a photo hunt. Somewhere on the package, they will find a coupon code. Engaging with your customer in this new way incentives future purchases. Plus, it’s more fun than just giving out that 10% off in a postcard or email.


I’m not McDonald’s or Nespresso, will it really work for smaller companies?

While augmented reality is charging in the packaging industry, some may see it as a gimmick to consumers, particularly if there is no obvious benefit for the user. There is also an argument that the biggest obstacle is the consumers’ relative lack of awareness of the technology.


This aside, a report from SuperData projects that mobile augmented reality will become the primary driver of a $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021 with AR taking the lion’s share with $83 billion and VR $25 billion.


Yes, the technology is still relatively new, but the development is moving quickly. Just as you can now customize your product packaging online, you’ll soon be able to add an AR option like an a’ la carte menu item.

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