Diageo is teaming up with Thin Film Electronics to create the Johnnie Walker Blue Label smart bottle. The news was announced at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the presented bottle prototype generated a lot of buzz, mostly for the interesting and novel application of NFC technology and a solution different from QR codes.

The new Johnnie Walker packaging will include Thin Film’s printed sensor tag, that uses new OpenSense technology, a patent-pending technology that provides smartphone-centric NFC (Near Field Communication) readability before and after product opening. These tags provide a lot of potential for consumers and the brand. Firstly, each bottle can have a unique identifier, allowing instant access to the status of the product during supply chain. They also provide product security as sensor tags can show whether bottles have been previously opened, therefore both addressing counterfeiting concerns and assuring consumers of product authenticity and quality. Another application is to enhance consumer engagement, as tags will allow Diageo to send consumer personalized communications – straight to the bottle. This information can contain information about the brand, recipe ideas and any other marketing content.

How ‘smart’ is the bottle for consumers?

Johnnie Walker smart bottle is definitely a great example of how technologies are adjusting to consumers’ lifestyles where everything is being accessed via a smartphone. Mintel’s trend Futures: Access Anything, Anywhere highlights the way technology changes the way we live. Smartphones originally aimed at accessing people, today are increasingly being used to access information. Devices are becoming remote controls for our lives, helping us access things we want to buy, control things we already own and analyze things we want to better understand.

However, the innovative prototype of smart bottle from Diageo raises several questions of its future application. The ability to push content to consumers via NFC enabled tags might raise concerns of having too much information that consumers might not always find necessary. An ability to check product authenticity via smart tags is definitely an added value to the shoppers of higher margin products that want to be ensured that they have the real product. However, not all consumer demographic groups might be willing to be accessed by brands when having the product for consumption at home. This might create an excessive stream of information and turn down consumers’ interest in that brand.

Another issue that the novel smart bottle is raising is the use of NFC technology. Current technologies like embedded sensors, printed electronics, RFID and NFC create the potential for brands to engage with consumers and help them make more educated purchasing decisions. However, while smartphone usage is high among most consumers today, the same cannot be said about the use of NFC technology. Johnnie Walker’s suggested application of the smart label is dependent upon an active NFC reading device, which at the consumer end is NFC-enabled smartphone. Currently not every smartphone has this capability and even the Apple iPhone added NFC only to its most recent iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus – however, it is limited to be used with Apple Pay only.

Will it work?

Combining technology with packaging promises great opportunities for brands to elevate an experience with the product and improve safety. In the past we have seen a number of smart and active packaging examples that failed to work, mostly because they lacked some element that added value beyond entertainment. That said,the Johnnie Walker smart bottle might resonate with consumers if executed correctly and if it does not blur the lines between functionality that the new sensor tag will give consumers and fun that will engage consumers at home via their smart device.

To find out more about how smart technology will make an impact in 2015, download our UK Consumer Trends 2015 and US Consumer Trends 2015 reports. 

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