Rethinking Augmented Reality for Packaging and Sustainability

By Martin Stahel, Sales Director at Zappar

I recently had the pleasure of attending Packaging Re-Wrapped, a conference hosting dozens of companies from a range of industries all trying to reformulate the way packaged goods are transported and sold at retail and online. The discussions centered on the importance of understanding the environmental impact of our respective businesses and how to proactively transform sustainability consciousness into practical action. This included how connected packaging, enabled by augmented reality (AR) technology, can be used to educate and empower people to make thoughtful, informed purchase decisions. I left feeling inspired and wanted to share some of my thoughts on how the world of AR interacts with the entire sustainability model.

Connecting with the Environmentally Conscious Buyer

Today’s customers are more prudent than ever about navigating the brands they want to support. Many are quick to distrust the information large brands provide — opting to make purchase decisions based on their perceived values and actions, rather than just price, brand loyalty or convenience. Indeed, research has shown that  60 percent of participants in a recent study said they always look for environmental information on the beverage products they buy. But the challenge for brands comes with surfacing all of this important and often complex information at a time when customers are considering the product purchase or want some post purchase validation..

This is where AR can help brands step up to the demands of today’s environmentally-conscious consumer. By adding a scannable code to traditionally analogue packaging, it can be turned into a digital portal to tell their brand’s sustainability story. And importantly, this information is more likely to be retained, due to the fact that AR experiences drive 45 percent higher levels of attention in the brain than other forms of media such as TV viewing or general online browsing. In other words, not only can AR be a tool to enhance transparency, but you can do it in an extremely memorable and effective way.

Amplifying the Social Responsibility of Corporations

These forms of connected packaging experiences make it easier than ever to share campaigns and communicate environmental initiatives to help customers feel more emotionally invested. A couple of my favorite examples include Chiquita and Nespresso.

Bananas don’t tend to conger up the thought of connecting packaging leaders, but Chiquita wanted to share the hard work they do behind the scenes to support their farming communities through building and renovating school infrastructure and making key advances in farm management. By adding a code to their iconic blue stickers, customers were able to scan their banana and unlock 360-degree tours of the farming communities. This not only informed customers about the processes behind the product, but gave direct visibility and voice to the people behind the product. It also generated interesting behavioral data and insights for Chiquita, direct from their products.

Many of us will recognize the brand for great coffee (and a certain delectable Mr Clooney) – what’s not so obvious are their considerable efforts to revitalize areas of Colombia and Zimbabwe where coffee agriculture has been ravaged by conflict. Over many years Nespresso has been working with local farmers to re-establish coffee plantations, infrastructure that made selling their produce possible, supporting farming communities and of course buying the beans at a fair price.  Nespresso then used an AR campaign to bring the story to life, creating pop-up exhibitions that showcased their work through the lens of National Geographic photographer Rena Effendi.

It’s crucial to remember that effective environmental campaigns encourage valuable conversations not only between brands and consumers, but they also give a voice to the people directly impacted by these campaigns.

Educating on Best Recycling Practices

When it comes to recycling, we’ve all struggled to decipher what packaging is recyclable (in our local area) and which receptacle it belongs in. Adding a logo onto a packet is not enough and it’s also tough to motivate a customer to follow through. AR has the ability to alleviate the confusion by creating highly engaging and interactive content, and sometimes even gamifying the process. The first method works much the way as the above campaigns have, by encouraging users to scan immersive experiences that teach them valuable information about best practices. To level-up, brands can gamify the experience, rewarding consumers who engage with their informative content with mini-games, new videos, or even coupons to spend in-store.

Not to mention the importance of being able to convey this information without the use of additional printed materials. The more ways to educate and create fun experiences around your brand without producing unnecessary waste, the better.

Connecting to the Bigger Picture

AR is also contributing to the larger environmental consciousness discussion by educating the customer on how all of their seemingly small actions add up when taken as a whole (our collective impact). A good example comes in the form of Yorkshire Tea and their “Yorkshire Tree” campaign — a long term initiative that aims to plant a million trees in the UK and Kenya. Users could experience the impact of their initiative via direct actions that traced the positive environmental impact of planting new trees. The brand gamified a long-term ecological goal with great content and without lecturing anyone. Instead, showing people how they could interact with a larger collective that was making a positive change — tapping into a tangible human desire to be part of something.

When it comes to sustainability and environmental consciousness, businesses have a long way to go, but technology is helping the cause. AR’s ability to transform passive print into a powerful always-on communication channel — driving a direct dialogue with their end-users in a growing experience economy — is extremely valuable in a world where customers are expecting their favorite brands to step up their game in transparency and best practices. The use cases I shared are just the beginning. My hopes are that the future brings even more interesting ways for AR to positively impact the world at large.

About the Author:

Martin Stahel is a sales director at Zappar, which works in AR for product packaging and in stores on mobile.