Patent-pending technology on Johnnie Walker Blue Label goes beyond QR codes

Not just any old bottle: Diageo ‘smart bottle’ thwarts counterfeiters and boosts consumer experience

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Smart bottle gives phones more than QR codes, says Thin Film
Smart bottle gives phones more than QR codes, says Thin Film

Related tags: Johnnie walker

Diageo and Thin Film Electronics have released a prototype Johnnie Walker Blue Label ‘smart bottle,’ which can assure consumers of authenticity, help the industry track the product, and ‘completely change the role of a bottle in the consumer experience.’

The bottle’s packaging includes Thin Film’s printed sensor tags. These can be read with a smartphone, which brings up any information the brand chooses to convey.

Thin Film says its patent-pending technology could give consumers instant access to cocktail recipes for spirits, food pairings for wine, or promotional offers and marketing messages.

‘This is the fastest and most seemless way to interact’

Thin Film says the tag – which uses its new OpenSense technology – has potential uses for both industry and consumers.

It can show whether bottles have previously been opened or not, addressing counterfeiting concerns and assuring consumers of authenticity. With a tag on each individual bottle, it can give brands a low cost track and trace method to follow bottles across the supply chain to the point of consumption.

But it can also be used to broaden consumers’ experience and interaction with the brand. Consumers could use it to access further information about the brand, ideas of how to use the product, or get offers and marketing messages.

Jennifer Ernst, chief strategy officer, Thin Film, said consumers can ‘tap’ the tag with their phone to load messages or information.

“There was a beautiful study done recently, in terms of where people want to get information from, in every single case the mobile was the preferred device,” ​she said. “Yes, we’re all busy: but this is the fastest and most seamless way to interact. It’s not typing in a URL, doing a search, waiting for it to load: the fastest way to get some drink ideas is tap the phone.

“Take cosmetics: If I purchase a certain mascara and eyeliner, it’s very easy for marketing engines to offer me eyes-hadow that matches. You can promote make-up tints and hints, different looks, different lipstick, the whole assembly based on [information through] the cell phone.

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“Then with GPS, it can recommend the closest store where I can buy these products.

“It’s a very, very powerful marketing tool.”

In the beverage industry it could give tasting notes for alcoholic beverages, recommend food pairings for wine, or suggest other products to explore.

Each tag has a unique ID, and therefore can be loaded with different information – potentially offering a different experience with each purchase.

While QR codes already offer a way for consumers to access information using their phone, Ernst says they are difficult to read, and have to be the same across the whole batch. The OpenSense tags are permanently encoded at the point of manufacturer and cannot be copied or electronically modified, assuring consumers of the source and whether the bottle’s seal has been broken, she said.

Hitting the shelves in nine months

The idea for the technology sprung from counterfeit concerns among producers of wines and spirits, as well as the pharmaceutical and milk powder industries, said Ernst.

“I was hearing from a number of different companies, about the issue of refilled containers. Nothing you put on the container could guarantee authenticity.

“That was the initial insight, but as soon as we started talking about the product it became clear that all these enriched [consumer] experiences would definitely be a benefit.”

The smart bottle will be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, March 2-5, 2015. Thin Film hopes to see its OpenSense technology on shelves globally within nine months, planning for high volume production of the low cost device.

Brands will be able to take on the technology and load it with the information it wants, or use it in the way that is most beneficial.  

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Ernst says there won’t be a problem with introducing consumers to new technology.

“We’re already seeing that tendency to use the phone to interact. [Contactless] payments, for example, that’s an interaction between a phone and a physical object. Once people are accustomed to it, it’s a fairly small leap to another object.  

“For most of us, our phone is the first thing we pick up in the morning when we switch off our alarm clock.”

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