Besides the fun factor, which seems to be the most important part of packaging connectivity for some brands, there are two aspects in connecting a packaging to the internet, making it interactive, which are of utmost importance and benefit the consumer as well as the manufacturer.
In my previous article I already spoke about label connectivity as a communication tool. In this second part of the series I like to incorporate one more item into the labelling problem: track-and-trace, in relation to counterfeiting.
Many products targeted by counterfeiters are very easy to copy due to their simple-to-copy packaging. It is the simplicity of mind of the marketing boys and girls that enable the counterfeiters to copy any packaging easily and put the fake on the market, as for the consumer the chance of buying an illegally copied product is not the undifferentiated packaging, but confusion.
Confusion is a strong ally of the counterfeiter and occurs when the consumer is confronted with many different, ever-changing versions of the packaging. How is the consumer to know when a new product packaging isn’t legitimate? Just do a Google search for some upscale brand to discover how many different bottles and packages the brand is carrying, and with what frequency it is changing the printing, the dimensions or screaming new recipe.
For a counterfeiter, success is having every non-complicit person handling the product downstream to accept the fakes as legitimate products. The products do not need to be exact copies, only good enough to fool those handling or buying the goods.
Let’s be clear counterfeiting isn’t restricted anymore to the high-end consumer products and not even to the pharmaceutical and medical area. The problem is already signalled with ordinary consumer products from well-known brands. What is simpler? I create a simple soup, label it as Campbell’s or Heinz, and all the extra profit of a high-end brand is mine without the hassle of supplying quality or even spending a penny on promotion and marketing.
And the consumer? He has nothing other in his hands to qualify a product as genuine, than his confidence in the retailer. As counterfeit products are unstoppably turning up on shop shelves with fakes simply being knock-offs, relabelled sister products, a mix of fake and genuine product, or a refill masquerading as a virgin product, the consumer may become victim of a do-it-yourself counterfeiter or of a vertically integrated international operating counterfeiting organization. The consumer’s trusted store could be an unsuspecting conduit or complicit in the crime.
One thing is clear: the problem is getting worse.
Up till this moment the consumer goods industry answered to this problem with a most fantastic, mouth-watering technological and intellectual tour-de-force, entirely forgetting what the real target is in its battle against counterfeiting. The target should be the consumer and not exposing the counterfeiter. A common misconception is that a counterfeiter will quit the practice if he gets caught …….. That’s exactly what happens with the “war-against-drugs”. Catch a guy, get him convicted, turn around and discover that he is replaced by ten others. Counterfeiting doesn’t go away by putting the tugs in prison.
That means that the industry has to supply a simple, but secure tool to the consumer. A way the consumer can easily verify whether the product is genuine or false.
It’s clear that connectivity of the packaging, interactivity with the consumer, is full in the picture here.
So, we have inventoried two crucial features for connectivity in relation to labelling. Let’s recap:
1. The immense volume of product and related information can’t simply be printed on a packaging or label. It has to be relayed to the consumer via internet.
2. Anti-counterfeiting solutions are a consumer’s affair and not a covert security measure in print only to be accessed by the supplier. The consumer needs an overt system enabling him to check the authenticity of the product via internet.
I have to say that the consumer goods industry is picking up at the requirements. Last year the SmartLabel program was created in an attempt to put communication via labelling beyond packaging. The program is an initiative of the Grocery Manufacturers Association together with manufacturers and retailers.
In principal the program applies to all packaged (and labelled) consumer goods products and represents a blend of old and new technology, a way to extend the content of a product’s label using an electronic link.
The idea is to provide a method for consumers to access much more detailed information than is available on a product label. Consumers would scan a bar code on the label (Note: I sincerely hope that in the near future other vehicles than the barcode will be activated too) to be directed to a “landing-page” containing the additional information.
A press release explained, that “SmartLabel will be available on an array of food, beverage, personal care, household and pet care products with information on hundreds of attributes covering thousands of products, including nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party certifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories and safe handling instructions and company/brand information, along with other pertinent information about the product”.
The information in the landing-pages will be organized in a consistent manner regardless of the product type, to enhance the predictability and familiarity of the types of information provided.
SmartLabel will allow the shopper to access accurate, detailed and consistent information in a simple, digital format.
According to the organisers, more than 30 major companies are already committed to taking part in this transparency initiative. Current projections call for 30,000 participating products by the end of 2017.
The big advantage of Smartlabel of course is the fact that the shopper just needs one app to read the barcode and connect to the landing-page. This is in stark contrast to all and every connected packaging and label, which for each brand requires its own app, leaving the consumer with 100s of mostly useless (and in security terms dangerous) apps.
Well, apparently SmartLabel is banking on the barcode, but the technology of connectivity in packaging and interacting with the consumer is at this moment a bit more sophisticated. Although be aware that the barcode isn’t out of the picture yet.
Let’s have a look at some high-tech solutions for label communication as well as anti-counterfeiting.
Thinfilm pressure-sensitive-labels on beverages
Thin Film Electronics, a Norwegian company in printed electronics and smart systems, partnered with Constantia Flexibles, a manufacturer of flexible packaging and labels.
The partners are now working closely to create key manufacturing and application processes for incorporating NFC OpenSense technology into wine, spirit, and beverage labels as well as flexible packaging for consumer packaged goods (CPG).
NFC OpenSense tags are thin, flexible labels that can detect both a product’s factory sealed and opened states and wirelessly communicate contextual content to consumers with the tap of an NFC-enabled smartphone. Each tag is uniquely identifiable and, when combined with a custom app and cloud-based software, enables item-level communication to a “market of one”. In addition, the tags remain active even after a product’s factory seal has been broken, empowering brands to engage in consumer dialogue that extends beyond the point-of-sale and continues throughout the product’s lifetime, including the opportunity to repurchase.
Smart interactive print on packaging
Ardagh Group has partnered with Dutch watermark company FiliGrade to enter the digital age, offering smart interactive print on its metal packaging.
The company will embed its invisible code, the FiliGrade Interactive Digital Watermark (FIDW) technology into print ready artwork, or a specific or entire print design of a product’s packaging.
The code will interact with a customer’s smartphone or tablet enabling them to see product information, promotions and special offers and links to marketing campaigns, events and special occasions.
It also offers a secure way for anti-counterfeiting, as it brings the digital age to packaging, adding new features to the direct attention of the consumer, and making life much harder for counterfeiters.
For the invisible watermark, FiliGrade will first analyse the packaging to determine how the code can be integrated in the best possible way. It claims to “always keep the design in mind and will add an (as good as) invisible watermark in the final art work”.
After the integration the packaging can be produced without any extra demands such as special inks or special substrates. The authenticity of a packaging can be determined via a smart device app giving authorities and consumers access to the authenticity algorithm developed by FiliGrade.
Guala Creates Smart Bottle Closures
NXP Semiconductors and Guala Closures Group collaborate in developing the next generation closure solutions for the wine and spirits industry. These smart-security closure solutions will integrate near field communication (NFC) technology, providing anti-counterfeit and tamper-evident applications and monitoring.
NFC will also be used to offer a direct engagement touch point with consumers. With a simple tap from an NFC-enabled smart device, consumers can learn more about the beverage in question, receive cocktail recipes, special offers, loyalty rewards and more. These new and advanced closure solutions aim to guarantee the authenticity and integrity of branded products.
The new NFC-enabled closures will feature an opening detection and logging technology to give a clear indication of an unauthorized opening of the bottle. Consumers can also verify the genuine provenance and integrity of the product via any NFC enabled mobile device and pertinent application. Brands will be able to interact with consumers via NFC smart engagement programs both at the point of purchase and throughout the usage of the product.
I think this is enough about labelling for today.