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  • 18 Jan 2013

Engaging technology

The industry’s creative use of technology exploits the opportunities to engage with consumers, reports Carol Houghton

Smart labels are a way to add value to a product, offering consumer engagement and interaction at the point of purchase. Beyond this, they can extend the consumer’s experience to a virtual platform, streamline supply chain processes, offer track and trace capability, and even help minimize food waste.

The Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPA) was established in mid-2011 to collaborate to create high-tech packaging that reduces supply chain costs.

Eef de Ferrante, AIPA director, says: ‘It seems all sectors of the industry agree the time is right to look at the commercial applications for active and intelligent packaging.’

2012 has experienced a surge in marketing campaigns that integrate modern interactive codes as brands compete to grab the attention of consumers, extending their experience online. This trend towards smart labels has not escaped Stuart Kellock, managing director at Label Apeel. He believes QR codes and augmented reality (AR) are the way forward: ‘There is a real opportunity for the print industry to embrace this and wrestle back power from the internet. Labels don’t just look pretty; they have real value for printers to bridge that gap.’

The technologies introduced to create interactive and added-value packaging all start as a novelty, but which ones have the staying power to build the future of smart packaging?

Quick response

Quick response (QR) codes are 3D barcodes that provide instant access to additional resources when scanned by a mobile device. US converter Lightning Labels says that codes afford businesses a new medium to connect with consumers, and provide innovative marketing opportunities that engage a target audience, improve lead generation and cultivate customer relationships.

The way QR codes are implemented presents a challenge for brands. Displaying one on the label can damage a brand if the link is not properly executed; it needs to be a gateway to a valuable virtual world with recipes, games, competitions and giveaways, and not just to a non-mobile optimized corporate website.


Simon Jobling, commercial director of AR provider m2end, believes that “mobile-centric” technologies are better placed now more than ever to make a breakthrough. ‘While QR will have a place for relatively simple information provision, the limitations and up-and-coming technologies suggest that the bigger impact could come elsewhere – for example AR.’

In addition to the functions of QR, AR provides a deeper interactive experience by enabling the integration of digital images and content with real world objects via a smart phone, webcam or tablet.

AR provider Blippar agrees that smartphones will become society’s primary way of communicating: ‘People want to be entertained. They want instantaneous, up-to-the-minute information and want to be able to buy things on-the-go, and they increasingly expect the world around them to be “smart”, aka internet-enabled.’

Jobling thinks 2013 could be the year when AR technology makes its consumer breakthrough. ‘A lot will depend on the creative agencies taking the time to understand how AR can add a new dimension to packs, and then commissioning the applications that will really drive consumer benefit.

‘It can provide added value to packaging – across all areas of the marketing mix,’ he says.


Near-field-communication (NFC) provides a complementary “touch” technology for payments and further interactivity between the real world and the virtual.

NFC has been overshadowed by the advancement of QR and AR since it was introduced at a time when the market was less aware of the benefits such smart technology can bring to a branded product’s packaging. Consensus among the industry suggests NFC has missed the boat for labeling applications, however its future looks certain for fast, mobile payment transactions.

Jobling says that, unlike QR and AR, there is a technological barrier in terms of having NFC enabled handsets. For instance, Apple’s iPhones are not NFC equipped. Still, there’s opportunity to be had with NFC codes, particularly when it comes to fighting anti-counterfeiting.

Mobile app developer ClikGenie worked with NFC tag supplier Smartrac and chip encoder and label printer FineLine Technologies this year to develop ClikSecure (pictured, top), an NFC product authentication system.

The app has been developed so that only supply chain stakeholders have access while shoppers are able to obtain information without the use of the application – accessing purely through tapping the NFC chip. ClikGenie demonstrated the solution for the wine market, an industry that has experienced recent spikes in black market sales around the world.

This article first appeared in the Labels & Labeling Yearbook 2013