Why sustainably-minded brands use augmented reality

By Caspar Thykier in Smart Packaging on October 28, 2019

Savvy brands like Nestlé are leveraging the sustainable packaging benefits that AR technology offers along with potent consumer engagement.


We now live in an age where consumers are holding businesses to a higher standard of environmental consciousness. An Accenture survey concluded that 62% of Americans want companies to take a stand on issues like sustainability. The good news is that more brands are beginning to listen. “Brand purpose” is the topic du jour in most leadership meetings looking to meet the demands of their consumers around sustainability, environmental impact and social responsibility. It’s not just consumers but the investment community too who are taking a good look at a company’s sustainability credentials as a benchmark of shareholder and stakeholder value. To an extent, we have the digital age to thank for that. A brand’s image may have been built over decades, but its reputation can be tarnished in a matter of minutes by users holding them to account for their actions or, in this case, inaction.

Against this context, Burger King decided to remove all plastic toys from their Junior Meals for kids. It’s a win every time a larger corporation takes a significant step toward changing its business model to reduce its environmental impact. While this is indeed highly commendable, it’s also a savvy move for the business—it draws positive goodwill towards the brand in taking a stance on an issue that matters to people and doesn't mean the end of driving sales and brand engagement through marketing promotion.

It’s also an opportunity to get creative with their existing assets (their packaging) and connect with consumers on that device that has become the evolutionary appendage we seemingly can’t live without, our smartphones. It also takes out an incredibly costly and organizationally intensive manufacturing, inventory management and distribution headache for the giveaways. Literally everyone wins here.

There’s another important and concurrent narrative at play. Specifically, there are three events that have shifted the way businesses and brands are approaching their mobile strategy in general:

  • The focus from hardware manufacturers on the camera as the key battleground for differentiation between their products which has also led to new software developments through augmented reality.
  • The introduction of mobile WebAR removes the requirement for a native app download to access augmented reality capabilities. Instead, you can access it through any devices connected to the web. The global market of WebAR-compatible devices is approaching 3 billion, compared to just over 1 billion for ARKit and half that for ARCore-compatible devices. That means that WebAR as a distribution method has the ability to reach nearly twice as many smartphones as AR deployed in a native app.
  • The resurgence of QR codes now that they are both GS1 compliant and readable directly from the camera on iOS devices and an increasing number of high-end Android devices.

...and that’s before the introduction of 5G in 2020, which will make the speed and power of devices and use of the camera and AR greater still.


One of the biggest questions and opportunities for brands and businesses has become “what’s your camera strategy and how can you leverage it to drive sales and deeper connections with your end users through more relevant experiences and better data?”

This has huge implications for retailers and consumer-packaged goods brands as it effectively gives them a totally new way to think about their retail estate and packaging. Both can transcend passive print into an always-on media and digital discovery channel serving up contextually relevant information at two key moments of assistance: pre-purchase and at point of consumption.

The potential to build a new owned and direct media channel with your most valuable audience is enormous--it’s a golden opportunity to gather data on their usage patterns like never before and in a General Data Protection Regulation-supportive, permissive manner of course! All without a media fee payable to a third party.

There are a number of big multinational brands already leading the charge in connected packaging with the likes of Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Unilever, Pez and Puma.

Next: More than delivering surprise and delight

Caspar Thykier

Caspar Thykier is co-founder and CEO of Zappar, a company that works in augmented reality for product packaging and in stores on mobile.



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Digimarc can only help with AR! It is coming ....brands and retailers need to wake up