Contributed by Bruce Miller, Vice President of Product Development at SGK


Product packaging has long played multiple roles for brand owners and retailers. Beyond containing the product, it conveys information about the brand. It helps in tracking products with UPC labels and barcodes that make inventory and POS scanning easier. And, as a key consumer touchpoint, it engages consumers with eye-catching designs that convey the product’s quality and value to help the brand stand out on the shelf.

That last function has always been key. With only slight variations, for more than 150 years the primary purpose of packaging has been to create brand appeal. But in an age of constant interconnection and omnichannel marketing, is it really enough for packaging to offer appeal by simply looking pretty? And if not, what’s next?

The connected package.

The next generation in packaging, the connected package, is responsive to consumer behaviour, retail experiences and cultural phenomena. It creates greater value for consumers, retailers and manufacturers by becoming part of the digital stream of information, communication and transaction. It makes traditional packaging more useful and, as a result, weaves itself seamlessly into the lives of consumers and the logistics of retailers – delivering greater value to all.

An emerging solution for the connected package is digital watermarking. Subtle, two-dimensional codes can be embedded into the package’s artwork in a way that’s difficult to discern with the naked eye, but easily recognisable by POS scanners and smartphones.

A Schawk partner, Digimarc, has turned digital watermarks into a full solution for connected packaging. The solution, called Digimarc Barcode™ (referred to as DWCode by GS1), contains the product GTIN for checkout scanning, and also references a URL maintained on backend servers to connect the consumer with a mobile experience. In essence, Digimarc Barcode creates a new means of communication that is embedded into the physical package so that digital content can be accessed when, where and how the user wants it.

According to Digimarc, the leading provider of digital watermark technology, packaging enabled with Digimarc Barcode redefines how consumers shop and engage with products while delivering a compelling ROI to retailers and brands by changing the ways users view, handle and interact with packages.

Notes Sean Calhoon, vice president of product management at Digimarc, “By enhancing their products with Digimarc Barcode, brand owners and retailers alike can create packaging that wins at the shelf while future-proofing their packaging for exciting new applications.”

Digimarc Barcode connected package technology offers significant benefits across the entire retail spectrum – from CPGs to retailers to consumers – in two key areas: mobile discovery and POS scanning.

As all brand owners know, pack space is a limited commodity, and it’s not always possible to display all the information a consumer might desire. This has led to the rise of QR codes as a means of providing further information digitally, but these codes are often unsightly and take up a considerable amount of space, especially if the package is small. Digimarc Barcode allows data to be embedded within the package graphics, negating the need for big and unsightly QR codes.

Offering a foolproof method for pack-wide scanning, Digimarc Barcode allow consumers to scan anywhere on the pack to access unlimited product details online. Complete nutritional details, country of origin for all ingredients, allergens, carbon impacts and other information can all be accessed in a way that’s easier, more useful and more attractive compared to traditional labelling. Brands gain an unlimited messaging canvas while eliminating the need to sacrifice valuable pack space for QR codes.

And this unlimited messaging capability is key to engaging consumers. A Digimarc/Harris poll1 indicates that 33 percent of consumers desire the ability to scan a package to access further product content, opening the door to new and innovative marketing campaigns through greater brand interaction. Anything from digital coupons to product videos to cross-brand promotions can be associated with a Digimarc Barcode, and the messaging can be changed whenever the brand owner wants to update it.

While pack-based messages are locked once the package is printed, digital messaging can easily be swapped out and updated to accommodate product changes, evolving market demands or seasonal campaigns. Moreover, brands can control the consumer experience in a way not possible with traditional packaging, taking the package into the global information network available through digital media.

In addition to increasing consumer engagement, Digimarc Barcode can help provide greater flexibility and efficiencies for POS scanning, saving both time and money for retailers and consumers alike.

Using traditional UPC codes, retail personnel must take the time to find the code and align it properly to the scanner. And that wasted time costs retailers money.

But when a package has a Digimarc Barcode embedded in the graphics, Digimarc estimates a 30 percent reduction in scanning time because the sales clerk can scan anywhere on the package without the need to orient the barcode to the scanner. For retailers, the cost savings can be exponential, far exceeding the investment in the required POS scanners.

Further, Digimarc Barcodes provide an improved in-store consumer experience through faster and easier checkout. According to a Digimarc/Harris poll2, 88 percent of U.S. adults want a faster checkout. The time saved in scanning translates to happier consumers due to decreased wait times to pay for groceries. It also enriches the interaction between the sales clerk and the shopper because the clerk doesn’t need to focus on finding the UPC and can instead engage more actively with the consumer.

Digimarc Barcodes can also enhance the self-checkout experience. According to the same poll, 75 percent of consumers say that self-checkout would be appealing if technical problems were reduced. The foolproof scanning that digital watermarks offer provides this ease of use, lessening the number of technical issues that require troubleshooting by retail personnel during self-checkout and speeding the overall transaction process.

While it is currently being launched on a wider scale across North America, Digimarc Barcode is still a new technology. Both brand owners and retailers have shown interest, and testing is currently underway for several leading national and private label brands to determine the technology’s efficacy. And retailers are beginning to invest in the new POS scanners that are required to read the code.

Embedding digital watermarks in package artwork requires significant technical ability, which is why Digimarc is partnering with leading production houses, including Schawk, to provide this service and leverage their artwork expertise.

We believe the connected package represents a huge leap forward, making packaging a more useful tool for consumers, retailers and brand owners. By enabling the connected package, Digimarc Barcode marks the next evolution of product packaging. Expect to see greater efficiency, interaction and appeal – coming soon to a brand near you.

As Vice President of Product Development for SGK, Bruce Miller leads the practical application of new technologies to the brand deployment requirements of SGK’s clients. His deep expertise in graphic production and management has helped advance the application and performance of graphic workflows for many of the world’s most prominent brand owners. A champion of innovation at SGK for more than 25 years, Bruce has played a pivotal role in the company’s transition from conventional analog to today’s advanced digital technologies and processes. For company information, visit and


The author is a 3rd party contributor to AdAsia and this article represents his views.


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