Jones Soda Goes Beyond Traditional Packaging An Innovative Mindset and AR Amp Up Brand Storytelling

By Curt Thompson with Jones Soda

Packaging innovation can play a powerful role in branding, marketing and selling consumer products and goods. Though advancements in materials and manufacturing continue to help drive success for CPG businesses, leveraging technology can increasingly make an impact and enhance brand storytelling. It goes beyond use of high tech in manufacturing processes or harnessing ecommerce and social media. Brands of all kinds today can look to and explore a range of new technology tools to grow their business, beat competition, interface with customers, and ultimately benefit their bottom line.

For craft soda favorite Jones Soda, innovation and creativity has always been at the forefront. The approach helped the brand penetrate the ultra-competitive consumer beverage industry in 1996, a market dominated by large, established and highly successful key players. Innovation was equally important during craft soda’s nascent beginning, where Jones became a cult favorite. The company’s approach began with unique formulations and flavor profiles previously unseen in consumer beverages, along with edgy and unexpected labels. While legacy soda companies relied on common label designs, Jones Soda bottles used designs and photography created by fans of the brand. The out-of-box approach helped put Jones on the map, and remains central to the brand’s DNA 27 years later.  But as technology has evolved, Jones has also started collecting video content to help consumers tell their story beyond still images.  Most recently, it has included a cutting-edge, market-pioneering use of augmented reality (AR) on the brand’s packaging.

The vision

In 2015, Denver, Colorado-based creative agency August Allen saw a dynamic opportunity to bridge the gap between brands, traditional advertising and modern digital innovation. Internet and technology tools and capabilities had exploded to include a new range of ideas and potential. Brands began to want more from traditional creative and advertising agencies, and August Allen was formed to deliver augmented reality (AR) solutions with new technology. The agency began to quickly succeed, including winning top industry awards and garnering a roster of impressive campaigns.

Jones Soda also saw potential in AR. The company wanted to bring its highly popular labels to life, and AR technology held promise to achieve that vision. In 2021, it launched its REEL LABELS program featuring AR labels of popular athletes, artists and influencers. The AR labels appeared on millions of Jones Soda bottles across five of the brand’s favorite flavors in the United States and Canada. The program was an enormous success, with AR proving to supersede other engagement channels available for Jones. However, AR technology was far from turnkey in the industry at that stage. Creating and launching campaigns was a challenge. It required multiple, costly steps and several different vendors. Once an AR campaign was made, it wasn’t possible to change it. To further its AR program, Jones wanted greater capabilities and flexibility, and if possible, to make and implement its AR program in house. It also wanted to move to mobile AR to further broaden its consumer reach.

The approach

It turned to August Allen for the task. Jones shared its ideas and needs for an AR program with August Allen, along with what it hoped to achieve with technology. The Jones team had a clear strategic vision: an app-less mobile platform that was managed in-house, with faster performance and a streamlined user experience (UX). August Allen rose to the challenge and helped build one of the industry’s first fully customized, proprietary and turnkey AR technology platforms. One that enables Jones to build and manage AR programs itself, no third party vendors, lengthy timelines, or extra resources required; it’s entirely self-managed on the backend.

The platform features an easy-to-use dashboard interface, the capacity to build and change AR campaigns in real time, and experiment with other AR ideas and concepts. Jones can now further its REEL LABELS program in less time and with fewer resources, as well as expand AR to other products, including merchandise and point of sale. It can also broaden and experiment in new communities in ways it couldn’t before. Additionally, the platform uses mobile AR instead of app-based technology, making it far easier for consumers to access and enjoy. Just as Jones imagined.

The approach and technology had never been undertaken in AR or the beverage industry before. Brands have brought products to life with AR, but never in the way Jones and August Allen created. Ideating and implementing a new, completely proprietary and self-service technology platform meant navigating unknown and unfamiliar terrain, without the certainty of how things would turn out. However, both companies had long been innovative in their industries, and often first-to-market with new ideas and products. They were ready to take the leap. As in the past with both brands, that leap was successful.

The mindset

Jones is scrappy and entrepreneurial in a way that required much more from AR technology than what was available at the time. August Allen really rose to the challenge, and today the brand does things with AR that no one else in the beverage industry is doing right now. Brands that want to try new things or innovate in new ways should be encouraged. There’s enormous potential in technologies like AR. The first step is realizing a vision and finding how it can be done. There’s really no limit to what can be possible. Our work with Jones is proof.

Jones began to use its new proprietary AR platform this year. It harnessed the innovation to create and launch AR enabled PRIDE posters along with the return of AR labels on its PRIDE bottles. In addition to other future products, Jones’ cannabis brand, Mary Jones, will also launch AR labels in the coming year, with future innovation planned around custom AR gaming, Point of Sale, and the MyJones direct to consumer line.

About the Author

Curt Thompson is the director of brand marketing with Jones Soda. He is a cross-functional leader focused on breakthrough marketing in both the physical and digital space.  Learn more about the company at www.jonessoda.com

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