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AR and VR in packaging: Beyond the buzz

AR and VR in packaging: Beyond the buzz
Heineken’s Desperados beer added a virtual dimension to a limited-edition promotion that caused a social media stir in France. The design was created using Google Tilt Brush, a virtual reality headset and hand controllers. The label is from CCL Label.

A look at real-world opportunities using augmented and virtually reality technology for packaging, consumer engagement and more.

It was in Toronto in May where I moderated a well-attended panel discussion on augmented and virtual reality at UBM’s Advanced Design & Manufacturing event, a duty that took me a step or two outside my comfort zone in packaging editorial.

I learned that the technology is even more remarkable than I’d imagined, with the panelists pointing to applications real and possible across a wide swath of industries. I also found very quickly there’s no way to take notes while moderating, so nearly all of what the panelists said evaporated.

However, I felt this fascinating subject—is there anyone unaware of the Pokémon GO phenomenon that uses an augmented reality smartphone app?—deserved a wider audience. I reconnected with research firm IDC Canada senior analyst, Emily Taylor, whose insights anchored the broad-based panel discussion of experts. Taylor conducts strategic research and analysis on mobility technology markets, focusing on mature and emerging technologies including augmented reality and virtual reality.  She sets the stage for further drilling down into the packaging side of the equation by the president of Shikatani Lacroix Design, “designers of immersive experiences,” on the next page.

As a backdrop to the market itself, a report from research firm SuperData projects that mobile augmented reality will become the primary driver of a global $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021, with AR taking the lion’s share of $83 billion and VR at $25 billion. Another report projects the global  market at nearly $120 billion by 2022 at a 75% CAGR from 2016 to 2022.

Let’s start with defining these two terms.

Taylor: Augmented reality (AR) is technology used to complement a persons’ environment through the addition of digital content or objects into their field of view, while virtual reality (VR) is technology used to remove a person from their existing reality and provide a “virtual” reality, immersing them completely within a digital environment.

What’s the state of the AR/VR market?

Taylor: Over the past year or so we’ve seen some big players in the tech industry bring AR/VR solutions to market in the form of software, services and hardware. This industry push and the promise of AR/VR technologies to be the next key computing platform has encouraged experimentation and innovation in this burgeoning market. Initial waves of AR have been seen on smartphones and tablets where the device’s camera is held up to a key landmark and additional information is augmented into the scene on the screen, and it is expected that this will be the way many are first exposed to AR.

With AR, the blending of the real and the virtual can be difficult to create, but the possibilities with both mobile devices and head-mounted displays like Microsoft’s HoloLens are expected to be more limitless than VR. Initial VR headsets and solutions have been heavily focused on gaming and hyped launches for products like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but as both AR and VR solutions evolve the technologies have potential to revolutionize business as we know it.

What are the biggest growth markets for the tech?

Taylor: We’re seeing spending and lots of interest in AR technologies in manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare. For VR, retail, construction, and healthcare are areas where we see great potential. Overall, for enterprise users AR and VR ultimately raises productivity and allows workers to interact with data rather than view it statically. Those interactions have the capacity to facilitate experiential learning, virtual collaboration spaces, and training simulations. For consumers, these technologies will provide “as if you were there” and augmented experiences as new ways to consume and share content.

What benefits does virtual-enabled packaging offer?

Taylor: AR/VR-enabled packaging—and AR/VR-enabled content overall—facilitates heightened interactions for the user by supplementing the real world with digital content and provides a new, unique experience that wasn’t previously possible.

There is currently a lot of hype surrounding AR/VR solutions, and utilizing these technologies in advertising or marketing can provide benefits that are two-fold:

  1. It allows organizations to investigate the applicability of the medium to their business before making broad decisions or investments; and
  2. It also can provide some PR and marketing hype for a brand.

Still, some AR/VR executions may be seen as a gimmick to some consumers, particularly if there is no obvious benefit or utility for the technology’s usage. Product visualization is an area where this technology fits well, where consumers can view items virtually before purchase. This may help facilitate the purchase if the consumer isn’t sure, as it allows them to visualize the item(s) in a new way.

A test subject, outfitted with electroencephalography (EEG) sensors and Samsung Gear VR headset, uses a controller to navigate through a VR environment. Image: Shikatani Lacroix Design.

What newer technology comes into play?

Taylor: Head-mounted displays (HMDs) enabling AR/VR content are poised for growth over the next few years. These devices are also expected to evolve as both AR and VR HMD experiences require a lot of processing and battery power to make the experience robust, which can be a trade-off between power and mobility. Devices are also expected to become lighter and thinner, easier for longer term wear.

What’s a piece of advice for brands considering using AR/VR on their packaging?

Taylor: It is important to lead with good quality AR/VR experiences, as bad experiences can both be damaging to both the evolution of AR/VR in the market as well as the brand. One of the key advantages of these technologies is the level of immersion in the user experience, and the quality of this user experience will help drive adoption and interest overall. Further, adoption and usage of these technologies requires a certain level of digital operation, so assessing the current state of readiness within the brand or organization will be important when pursuing next steps.

Next: Packaging design & development and the 3 hot spots for AR and VR


Immerse yourself in a real-world packaging experience at MinnPack in Minneapolis November 8-9 that’s part of a comprehensive 6-event megashow that also includes PLASTEC. For more information, visit


Jean-Pierre Lacroix, president, Shikatani Lacroix, addressed our questions with a thorough, informative reply that’s worth relaying intact.  

The future of packaging is immersive and virtual

One of the biggest challenge for brand marketers is ensuring their new product launch or rebranding efforts succeed and overcome the risks associated with any change. Ultimately marketers are looking for solutions that will break the industry risk benchmark where only 1 in 10 new products succeed or where repackaging initiatives fail to drive significant sales growth. The question many of our clients are asking is “What is the role of AR/VR in the packaging development process in addition to how these technologies can better engage with customers?” It’s an important question when you consider that all new mobile devices will come with AR/VR capabilities built right into their systems, thus making the barrier of access and use a moot point.

Our firm has pioneered the use of both AR/VR in addition to the combination of these visualization tools with neuroscience and our research has proven these tools are very effective in gaging consumer reaction to design options. Although there are many applications of this technology being used and considered by marketers, I believe the biggest short-term impact will be its use for research. I have listed three major areas these technologies have started to be used today and suggestions to what the future will bring.

1. Shop-ability packaging research

The battle still remains at the shelf level irrespective of all the hype of online sales, especially in the grocery category where only 10% of all sales are completed online. The battle is won or lost every day driven by a brand’s shelf visibility and shop-ability since most consumers can be swayed at this pivotal moment of purchase as we have coined the term Blink Factor, that split-second impulsive decision emotionally driven to buy one brand over another. Historically marketers have relied on eye tracking shelf studies to determine how the new design performs at store level and although they do provide some insights, they only tell a partial story. The challenge is every retailers has different planograms making predictions of shelf impact and shop ability a real challenge. More importantly it does not get to the emotional dimension of the at-purchase moment so pivotal in driving sales.

This is where VR plays an important role when coupled with neuroscience technology as the combination of these tools allows for researchers to gage consumer cognitive and emotional responses across a wide range of planogram configurations in the context of a virtual world that every day is getting closer to mimicking reality.

Research firms such as Explorer and our VR/AR work with True Impact have for the past years pioneered the combination of these technologies with great success in helping marketers get to the true facts of how consumers make buying decisions. With the increase of screen resolution and computer processing speeds to drive the virtual world frame rate to match that of a real environment only a few years away, the blurring of what is virtual and real will become reality allowing the use of these technologies to provide even richer insights.

AR gets physical: Through the use of the custom-built app on the tablet, the Pepsi Emoji product artwork is displayed using the soda can as the marker instead of a code or surface tracking. The user is able to touch the object, pick it up, turn it or place it alongside other cans or products. Image: Shikatani Lacroix Design.

2. Store experience agile design process

The big challenge for retailers is how to ensure the millions of dollars in investment associated with a new store concept are successful in engaging customers and driving in-store sales versus online. Historically retailers only gain insights on the success of their new store program well after the prototype is built and customers have frequented the new experience. This was the case with M&M Food Market where we built two separate store concepts in order through ethnographic research determine the optimum experience. However retailers have a new took with VR allowing them to assess new store concepts with their customers at the very beginning of the design process allowing an agile and iterative process.

We recently used the combination of these technologies to research a new bank we were designing in China, allowing both our client and the design team to gain insights regarding the design options with customers. The results of using this technology when compared to the actual built environment has proven the accuracy and effectiveness in gaining deep insights and understanding of customer’s responses to new designs. We now incorporate these tools in most of our larger branded environment projects helping our clients make smarter decisions well before the stores are built, minimizing the traditional risk of making changes or enhancements driven by real world customers shopping reaction once the prototypes are completed.  

3. New 3D visualization tool

AR or augmented reality provides a whole new platform for marketers to engage with customers at the product level. The technology linked with eye tracking enabled AR glasses allows researchers to provide consumers with physical packaging with AR mapped graphics that can easily be changed within seconds. This technology will allow for more realistic assessment of packaging graphics in its physical state and allowing a full 3D view of the label design. This has significant benefits when research pharmaceutical packaging with the need for extensive product information. The current HoloLens technology is still in its infancy (the product is not ready for official launch and plans are years away) and we view the use of this technology as limited to client label presentations at this juncture.

We do leverage this technology in creating augmented reality worlds viewed from your tablet or smart phone as part of creative presentations for clients. Most recently we presented to a major fast food chain in China a virtual view of their new concept providing the opportunity to view all aspects of the experience through their smart phone virtually.

The carton lid on Vital Farms' eggs uses Augmented Reality to show how much space the pasture-raised chickens have as a way to increase consumer engagement. See Augmented Reality app complements egg carton redesign

Future forward

We see AR as taking greater dominance amongst marketers as a new medium to connect with customers. The advent of invisible bar codes allows customers to now easily use their smartphone to enter a brand’s virtual world, allowing richer storytelling and more immersive experiences as the critical at-purchase moment. This technology has been around for more than a decade and has received gained very little traction since the mobile devices being used provided limited quality of experience. With today’s smart phones high resolution screens and fast processors, we predict its use becoming more prevalent.

Ikea has pioneered its use several years ago to help customers make better furniture decisions by allowing items from their catalogue to be virtually placed in a person’s home. We will see its use as an alternative to a mobile site or promotional in-store conventional material. Coupled with geofencing* and Artificial Intelligence data technology, it will provide a more personalized and richer customers experience allowing brands to compete at a different level of engagement.

 *Ed. Note: Geofencing is “the use of GPS or RFID technology to create a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a mobile device enters or leaves a particular area.”

For more on the topic of AR/VR-enabled packaging from Packaging Digest:

Augmented Reality offers real-world value for packaging design

Blippar and packaging: The reality and possibilities of digital engagement


Immerse yourself in a real-world packaging experience at MinnPack in Minneapolis November 8-9 that’s part of a comprehensive 6-event megashow that also includes PLASTEC. For more information, visit


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