Augmented Reality in Packaging

When it comes to designing packaging that will stand out on shelves and drive purchase decisions for digitally-driven consumers, it is important to consider adding an extra ingredient. Augmented Reality (AR) is a method of enhancing package design by providing consumers with an opportunity to receive additional multimedia information at the click of a button. The following information will explain what augmented reality is, discuss its origins and outline how it may be used to induce consumer loyalty.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is an innovative practice of blending real life with virtual life by using applications and images that blend content or products together in the real world. When used in packaging, it takes visual attractiveness beyond eye-catching colours and graphic designs and becomes futuristic. It provides consumers with more than just additional information, but an immersive experience from the moment they interact with the product. Once a customer engages with the product, they are able to delve into the brand’s story and interact with virtual content in the real world. Given that consumers, particularly Millennials, are technology-driven and require fast and thorough information before making a purchase decision, there is great potential to capture their attention at the moment of purchase by including AR in the packaging design work.

Augmented reality, virtual reality and QR codes

1. AR vs VR

As with AR, Virtual Reality (VR) provides a similar experience of immersing a user into an alternate reality but by a slightly different method. When designed correctly, users should be unable to distinguish between what is real and what is created. This is usually accomplished by wearing goggles or a VR helmet.

With AR, the end goal is to create virtual content in the real world that users can interact with, but be able to distinguish between. Conversely, with VR the user becomes completely secluded from the real world and immersed into a fabricated reality. VR is generally suited for virtual environments such as video games and social communication sites or applications.

2. AR vs QR codes

Any smartphone with a camera and internet capabilities will allow its user to access the world of augmented reality through a downloaded software application. A package design enriched with AR will immediately display information once it has been scanned and does not require any additional emblems. Conversely, a quick response (QR) code is a visible 2D barcode that does not have a set format and which often causes confusion or inattention by consumers. There are mixed opinions on which is functionally more effective. As the predecessor to AR, QR codes have no doubt added a level of interactivity to packaging and have been incorporated onto labels over the past several years.

Examples of successful AR in packaging

There has been a rapid increase of AR in the consumer space, in applications such as video games and hardware devices like Google Glass. With Google Glass, users experience AR through the use of a small screen located in the upper corners of the eyeglass frame – currently being experimented with prescription lenses – and are able to persistently tune-in to emails, phone calls and other notifications (Washington Post). AR has also been successfully implemented into packaging and promotional materials. Some examples include:

Ikea Catalogue

Ikea astutely included digital content into its printed catalogue. A user can activate pages to reveal a 360-degree view of a room with the option to design their own space digitally, before purchasing the products in store. The printed catalogue pages interact with 3D models of products, videos about products, and digital how-to content and the technology works by waving your smartphone over pages where the digital content is displayed. The interactive elements are a global initiative that are available in catalogues around the world – 43 countries in total (The Globe and Mail).

Topshop Dressing Rooms

Partnering with Kinect, Topshop developed AR dressing rooms where shoppers can try on potential buys virtually, creating an immersive experience for customers at the moment of purchase. Activating the program does not require special markers as the built-in camera tracks a person’s body and superimposes a 3D model of the clothing over it. A special kiosk for the fitting room was installed at Topshop’s flagship store in Moscow in May 2011. Since its launch, many shoppers, especially those in a hurry, have been able to try on their virtual products quickly and easily. Topshop has since experimented with augmented reality at London Fashion Week 2014 and we expect to see much more (Creative Guerilla Marketing).

Lexus Aurasma

In 2014, Lexus endeavoured to bring its print advertisements to life using the Aurasma app, which recognizes photos instead of barcodes. The app creates a fully realized 3D version of the stunning Lexus RC F sports car, along with the latest Lexus models, which move and can even drive off the page. Lexus incorporated this supercharged marketing approach to appeal to younger buyers. Aurasmaoptimized POP packages at the dealerships allow staff and customers to extend the static photos into a fullblown digital experience. The positive response from dealers, staff and customers has fuelled Lexus to incorporate digital experiences on its websites in an effort to showcase its innovation and performance. It is likely competitors will follow suit as this trend continues to surge (Media Post).


Heineken inventively launched an app that displays a 3D video when its ‘star’ logo on its AR product packaging is scanned. With the app, users can explore a 3D globe. The campaign, which ran from May to June 2013, featured eight sweepstakes prizes that could be unlocked via the app for consumers to win a trip to Las Vegas to attend the 2013 Latin Grammy awards. Heineken relies heavily on apps for many of its mobile marketing efforts. What makes the Heineken Star app stand out, compared to other apps that leverage augmented reality technology, is that the contest caters specifically to its consumers’ interests, which brings consumers back multiple times. Similar to the Lexus initiative, the app showcases cutting-edge technology that appeals to the tech-savvy consumer (Mobile Marketer).

Designing influence with AR

Packaging is an influential factor at the moment of purchase. Thus, incorporating technology into package designs will further increase the package’s influence by allowing consumers to interact with the brand and build brand affinity before they even purchase the product.

The ubiquitous usage of smartphones, the prominence of reader applications, and the inclusion of past technologies, such as QR codes, have lead to a heightened interest in interactive packaging. As technology continues to advance, this easily accessible trend is expected to increase as consumers start to demand the ability to interact with packaging, making it a flawless marketing mechanism for major and private label brands.

When applying AR technology to packaging, brands must be very discerning that the technology will effectively add value and meet a consumer’s need for more information on the benefits of the product and value of the brand. Fortunately, AR is extremely versatile. It can be implemented in one-time, short-term or ongoing initiatives and can be configured onto a variety of placements to engage consumers.

Incorporating technology is a unique and increasingly essential stride toward strengthening interaction and gaining loyalty from consumers. Future packaging innovation means venturing outside simple visual appeal and into an augmented reality that goes beyond the packaging structure.