Coming Soon to a Retail Theater Near You

By Ted Mininni

Our society is increasingly interactive. Some of the world’s best-selling consumer products are interactive. So why shouldn’t your brand’s packaging be?  

I’ve said it before. Packaging, at its best, refers back to the brand and leverages its chief assets. It also has the power to become the most important customer touchpoint—making the brand tangible by placing it in customers’ hands.
Marketers, though, are always looking for newer and better ways to build relationships with the customer. When we want to build relationships in our personal lives, we engage in dialogue. So how about packaging that can literally speak to the consumer? Imagine the impact interactive packaging might have with consumers.
With a new communication platform like this, brand relationships can become much deeper and more meaningful. And just as there are myriad brands, with their own distinct values, there are opportunities to leverage various interactive packaging formats.
Clearly visible
Clamshell and carded blister packs are interactive in the sense that the products they house are highly visible to consumers. Mass retailers are especially fond of these packages because they act as the “silent salesperson” and are easily merchandised on shelves or peg walls.
Both formats have their advantages and drawbacks. Clamshells, with their thick, substantial construction, offer theft and tamper deterrence. On the other hand, blister packs, which use less plastic, are more environmentally friendly. Blister packs are also user-friendly because they’re easier to open.
These formats are flexible enough that design consultancies can work with them to develop an ownable structure that can become closely identified with a brand over time.
They can also be developed to invite shoppers to make contact with the product inside. Take, for instance, new packaging developed for Johnny Lightning die-cast toy cars, which exposes the rear spoilers of the vehicles so that kids can pull on them, rev the engine and observe the sparks that result. This kind of interactivity gets kids excited about the product and goes a long way to making the sale.
Radica’s licensed Xbox™ Phoenix™ pad is smaller than the pad that comes standard with the Xbox console. It’s fully loaded with circular buttons and features an improved D-pad, dual vibration motors and rubber grips for comfort … or so the manufacturer says. Here, the proof is in the pudding: consumers can overcome any hesitation of buying a smaller pad by trying out the product, a crucial benefit delivered by its unique “try-me” packaging.
World Kitchen’s Baker’s Secret Silicone Bakeware offers another great example of tactile interactivity. Uniquely designed packaging features a sleeve with die-cuts on both ends that enable customers to feel the quality and flexibility of silicone bakeware (a relatively new introduction) and compare it to conventional bakeware made from aluminum, stainless steel or tin. Even better: the packaging allows retailers to stack the bakeware upright on the shelf so that customers can view the products and their billboards. Consumers can see—at a glance—that the bakeware can be bent and folded to fit into the smallest of storage spaces.
Packaging with an intelligence factor
There are also examples of the toy and entertainment industries taking the idea of interactive packaging to the next level. Thinkway Toys’ new M.A.G. (Motion Activated Gear) Game based on Warner Bros. animated television series Batman features a novel point-of-purchase mechanism with a unique “video-in-a-box” feature.
When the “try-me” button is pushed, a narrator’s voice explains how the game works in tandem with panels that light up in sequence, presenting a true interactive in-store experience for customers.
When packaging speaks to kids, offers light-up imagery and even special sound effects, it has a built-in “cool” factor. Sophisticated, interactive packaging plays to this generation of “connected” kids.
For adults, future packaging promises to be just as intelligent. New technologies such as 2-D barcodes, or other electronic circuitry embedded in packaging, will enable consumers to interact directly with packaging using their mobile handsets (think interactive games, coupons and prizes). Imagine your brand’s consumers armed with barcode readers in the palms of their hands.
Potential applications can also have more practical goals, giving consumers more extensive nutritional information and product use ideas, for instance.
These 2-D barcode solutions are not the stuff of futuristic dreams. Earlier this year, DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers inked an exclusive agreement with Scanbuy Inc. to license and market its interactive 2-D barcode technology for packaging applications.
The advance is being heralded by technology experts as a way to link the physical world of consumer products with the world of electronics and the Internet.
With a corporate giant like DuPont, and its powerful reach into the CPG packaging industry, many feel it is just a matter of time before today’s 1-D barcodes give way to this new technology.
Nanotechnology applications
Nanotechnology and nanopackaging developments are another area of interest to global companies, governments and researchers. The technology looks at ways of altering the structure of packaging materials on a molecular level to imbue them with stronger thermal properties, antimicrobial properties, better light resistance and less oxygen absorption and other attributes that might benefit consumers.
Some of the world’s largest food companies (Kraft, Nestle, Heinz and Unilever among them) have already been investing millions in nanotechnology research and development, with a sizeable number of smaller companies following suit.
Beyond better food preservation, the technology is of interest because it can be used to communicate with consumers; informing them, for instance, about how fresh the food is inside, or whether it is beginning to spoil. Embedded sensors can also give readings about the nutritional value of the product contained within—and might also give consumers information on how to best prepare these foods, how long to cook them, and more.
The potential for mass customization also exists within the realm of nanotechnology. Some food companies are considering products that can be adapted by consumers: Beverages, for instance, that can be altered for color and flavor according to personal preference; foods that might be customized to accommodate consumers’ nutritional needs and dietary restrictions.
While nanotechnology in actual food products has come up against fierce resistance from some consumer groups, nanotechnology in packaging is far less controversial and is steadily moving ahead.
Smart packaging and branding
Before any new packaging technologies are implemented, however, brand marketers must ask themselves how they can work to represent their brands’ core values faithfully. With exciting new developments, it’s natural to want to add all the bells and whistles to “wow” the customer—but not at the cost of obscuring your brand.
Packaging may get much more sophisticated in the near future, but its purpose as a customer touchpoint and brand communicator must remain unchanged. Remember: packaging should not only entertain customers; it should engage them and bring them closer to the brand.
Ted Mininni is president of Design Force Inc., a metro New York area consultancy that specializes in brand identity, package design and consumer promotion design. Reach him at 856.810.2277 or visit