Track-and-Trace: Augmented Reality Coming to Product Labels Near You

By Gary Paulin and Mark Lusky, Contributing Writers

A new world of product protection, authentication and communication is emerging. Along with manufacturers themselves, consumers will be the big winners as they confirm product authenticity, actively engage and interact with brands, get entertained, and learn along the way. And it all happens on and via the label.

Two technologies leading the way are Digital ID Track-And-Trace (DITAT) and Augmented Reality (AR). While the technology with both is proven and out in the marketplace, product manufacturers wanting to use them will need to invest some time, money and patience to get up and running. As they do, benefits will “wow” audiences in areas ranging from anti-counterfeiting campaigns to dynamic and dramatic video and animation.

Yin and Yang of Protection & Pizzazz

DITAT and AR complement each other in many respects. DITAT utilizes unique, counterfeit-proof electronic signatures on each label to establish and ensure product authenticity. Products can be verified at any point in the supply chain, including the consumer endpoint, using a simple smartphone app that scans a digital ID.

AR entertains, engages, educates and interacts with consumers using next-generation presentations such as the Jack Daniel’s video popup featuring musical accompaniment. Viewers simply download a smartphone app via the Google Play or Apple App store, then focus their phones on the bottle label to activate the presentation. It also offers counterfeit security protection features to document authenticity. Other functionality includes connections to brand social media, and ability to update information on-the-fly.

Beyond Barcodes & QR codes

QR codes and barcodes, while helpful to product tracking and tracing, are vulnerable to tampering and do not always catch counterfeits. In contrast, DITAT creates unique e-fingerprints on each product label that are impervious to tampering. Their small label footprint also makes an attractive alternative to large, aesthetically intrusive barcodes or QR codes. Bottom line, everyone on the supply chain—including end-users—can validate authenticity and other tracking functions simply by downloading a simple app, then scanning the digital ID.

AR makes products “come alive” and opens up a variety of ways that consumers can interact, get entertained and get educated all through one connection. For example, the Jack Daniel’s AR app offers viewers options to learn about “the man,” “how the whiskey is crafted,” and “where every drop is made.” This educates, entices and entertains all at the same time.

So why isn’t everyone deploying these technologies?

With counterfeiting, product quality and claims, and brand competition occupying the minds of consumers and manufacturers alike, multiple factors are making adoption an evolving versus explosive process:

  1. Dollar investment. While AR can be developed for less than $5,000 or much more depending on the cost of the creative required to put it into polished presentation form, DITAT generally adds 2-5 cents per image/label—which can be substantial. Conversely, once AR is set up, smartphone users can download a free app to access it without additional per label costs. As early adopters show the marketplace the viability and importance of both to reputation and bottom line, that dollar investment will feel increasingly justifiable. But, just like many new technologies, it’s taking a while. It may take less time for manufacturers who weigh loss of profitability, consumer confidence, reputation and competitive advantage against the price tag of moving forward on these technologies.
  1. Limited points of entry are available so far. Our company research and review process on both technologies began a couple years ago. It’s just now that ability to offer these to clients is coming to fruition. As with many previous technologies that ultimately became integral to commercial performance, this too will be somewhat of a follow-the-leader process. Once enough use cases showing dependability are developed, the followers will follow suit.
  1. Technological reliability. Given that both technologies involve complicated elements, testing and proving technological reliability in a consistent way are adoption criteria going forward. The last thing anyone wants is bugs in a technology designed to thwart counterfeiting or a presentation that can’t be viewed predictably.

Bulletproof Benefits

Among the ways that everyone on the supply chain, starting with manufacturers and ending with consumers, can benefit from the use of these technologies are:

  • Documenting the travels of individual items down the supply chain. For example, DITAT offers the opportunity to verify that supplements requiring refrigeration during storage and transportation actually were protected;
  • Communicating offers based on buying preferences, trends and interests discerned via tracking previous purchases, and giving consumers a way to respond. Value of various offer calls-to-action then can be evaluated in light of response rates and timing;
  • Inventory and recovery control. Digital IDs on each product package can help single out discrepancies in inventory. And, in the case of a recall, items can be scanned as they are returned, providing an easy one-step tracking system that reliably identifies each item versus lot/batch codes or other tracking protocols; and
  • Reputation management and brand enhancement. Being able to maintain consumer confidence and loyalty through product verification, and dramatically sing the praises of a brand are powerful positives tied to these technologies.

Given needed lead time to get up and running, the time to start developing and deploying these technologies is right now.

About the Authors

Gary Paulin is vice president of sales and client services at Lightning Labels, a Denver-based custom label printer that uses state-of-the-art printing technology to provide affordable, full-color custom labels and custom stickers of all shapes and sizes. Mark Lusky is president of Lusky Enterprises Inc., a marketing communications and content development company. Contact: sales@lightninglabels.com; 800.544.6323 or 303.481.2304.