Judging A Beer By Its Can: The Future Of AR In Consumables And Beyond

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“Beer speaks” may be the slogan for Lagunitas, but it’s Glasgow brewery Up Front that’s actually making its beer cans talk through an augmented reality (AR) campaign with local creative agency Freytag Anderson and visualization partner Render Studio.

Three of the brewery’s offerings — Ishmael, an American IPA; Yojo, a Gose; and Ahab, an American Stout — feature black and white linocut images created by artist Stanley Donwood and inspired by Moby Dick. Freytag is working to animate the cans with an experience that drinkers can view through a mobile app.

According to Freytag Project Director Sophie Brown, the experience isn’t just about novelty, although the discovery and fun aspects are definitely part of it. But Brown believes AR has great potential across the food and beverage categories to provide consumers with more information about products.

Use Cases

Consumers are more concerned than ever about where their food came from and how it was farmed, raised or processed. They are increasingly demanding transparency, traceability and authenticity from the brands they support with their dollars. AR, said Brown, could play into those consumer interests.

At its most basic level, as Freytag is applying it for Up Front, AR can provide further details on tasting notes and mandatory information in a more interactive way. But Brown said AR could fully eliminate the barrier of packaging, enabling brands to share more than they could fit on a box, can or bottle label.

“Often, the available real estate on a piece of packaging can be a limitation in telling their stories,” Brown said. “AR removes that barrier and allows interaction / information to be provided in, on or even around the product.”

In addition to telling brands’ stories, AR can provide a window into practical information: Nutritional facts, for instance, or complementary products. As the technology goes mainstream, Brown sees potential for experiences like using AR to provide real-time scores and goals during the World Cup via official beer sponsors’ cans.

Brown predicts that AR won’t just change how consumables are packaged, considered and purchased, but — eventually — how all retail sectors present their products and services, a transformation she envisions taking place over the next few years.

Supporting Small and Micro Businesses

AR, said Brown, offers brands an opportunity to stand out in a crowded marketplace with specific product- and audience-tailored strategies. This could help smaller companies with limited advertising budgets compete on the shelves with well-known name brands.

A local brewery is, of course, just one example of this. Local farmers, artisans and producers could also take advantage. An interactive package could carry a story of Scottish provenance into an overseas market, Brown said.

There is also potential for letting consumers know the “who” and the “why” behind brand collaborations or limited edition products, she said.

But Brown noted that product producers aren’t the only small businesses that can benefit from AR collaborations. Brands provide the product, the packaging — the canvas, if you will. Someone — an artist — must fill that canvas with something that makes consumers want to explore further.

Many artists conduct themselves as small and micro businesses as they try to make a living off their works and wares. In the creative world, as in the consumer goods world, the market is crowded, and getting noticed is hard. Brown said that partnering with a brand to design interactive packaging can help artists get their work in front of more eyes.

“Why wait to have work selected for a gallery when you can effectively invite people around the world to a curated show?” she said.


AR is still new enough that the best way to deploy content to consumers is through a dedicated app — which, as many have learned, can be difficult to get users to download. The good news, according to Brown, is that in-browser solutions are in the works from players like Google and Facebook, which will make it easier to engage with AR content.

Yet the challenge begins even earlier than that. Before consumers can make the choice to download (or not download) an app, they must know that an app is available.

Brown said there are many ways to signal on packages and products — or on nearby displays in stores — that an AR experience is available, and she feels that represents a major opportunity for advertisers. In the case of Up Front’s beer cans, though, she said the brand and the agency made the deliberate choice not to signpost the experience.

“We see the very exploration of it as food for social media engagement,” Brown explained. “We like the idea that, with a little marketing work, consumers can make the discovery themselves, show their friends and spread the word. It’s empowering and allows them to feel ‘in the know.’”

That may work for a small brand with an artsy customer base, but big names are sure to want something a bit more visible — something that grabs customers rather than making them hunt it down. Brown believes the real breakthrough in this aspect will come with wearable adoption.

“The biggest challenge is having to view AR through a mobile device,” she said. “As technology develops and we see more and more people using wearables, AR’s ability to engage the consumer — rather than having to be engaged — will revolutionize the experience.”