How smart packaging works

Materials World magazine
1 Jan 2018

Equipping products with sensors and interactive codes will reduce packaging waste, argues Jean-Richard Maguet*, owner of French packaging design agency Mizenboîte.

‘Hi there, I recognise you. Did you like the cheese you bought last week? It expires in two days, so make sure you finish it. Here’s a recipe I found online that uses this type of cheese.’ In future, you can expect this kind of feedback when you put your smartphone anywhere near packaging. It will recognise the phone via a sensor and be able to propose better services based on a number of criteria. By printing a QR code on the packaging that can be scanned with the phone, customers can access additional brand content and information online.

Manufacturers want consumers to engage with a product, and the best way to communicate with them on a large scale is via packaging. With smart packaging, you’re opening a whole new world to the clients who want to share their experiences with the product, for example via social media. Your packaging bursts out of its physical and technical limits and into a vast world of multimedia interactivity and content.

What exactly is smart packaging? It goes beyond connected packaging by adding a form of intelligence, which, in my opinion, must contain these four elements:

  • Access needs to be as simple as possible, no download or update of apps. Use the most democratised contactless technology on the market (QR code and NFC tag), and make it accessible for all brands of smartphones, tablets, as well as for PC and Mac.
  • All information must be interactive, fun, and educational. The consumer wants the information and the service here and now. For example, they are looking for authenticity and want to be able to communicate with the manufacturer, whether it’s a big brand or small producer. They also don’t want to install additional apps – to read a QR code, you can just use the phone’s camera.
  • The multimedia content should cater to the language that the user speaks. There should be two levels of communication, the one printed on the packaging and the interactive one around the packaging.
  • Integrate geo-marketing functions in order to visualise the catchment area of a product. You should add a geotag to the product’s sensor, to see the interaction between consumer and packaging and be able to adjust marketing for the product in a specific region.

Having integrated these elements into your product, you need to make sure you follow some golden rules to use smart packaging successfully. Firstly, remove the obstacles to access. Consumers want to see content with the single flick on the phone. 

Secondly, make sure people understand how to access the content – write instructions on the packaging, because not everyone knows how to do it. In addition, update the information regularly, reward customers who come back to look at the multimedia features and create a membership feeling.

Concerning the technical side of creating multimedia content, you can reduce the volume of packaging. By enabling digital access, you make it superfluous to print out and attach documents such as assembling instructions, handling advice, or translations. This also reduces reprints. By assigning the same packaging to several languages, keeping the legal and brand information on it, you can modify and adapt interactive multimedia information at any time. Finally, invite customers to sort the packaging waste by adding information on the packaging waste in the multimedia environment. This can be done via a game or a video. Currently, smart packaging is a concept for the future and therefore some questions remain unanswered. For example, how do you recycle a package with an NFC chip embedded? And how to respect the legal information requirements of different countries in several languages on the same packaging when we want to reduce the size of the packaging overall? I am happy to start a discussion about these questions. 

*Jean-Richard Maguet is the CEO of packaging manufacturer Mizenboîte. Formerly, he was the CEO of a web agency in Paris. He has a Masters in law, economics and management. He also helps company managers to implement company strategies.