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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Packaging and StealthCode® Technology

I just read an intriguing article on www.packagingeurope.com (2/13/18) entitled “ToBeUnique: Packaging Becomes Interactive Thanks to StealthCode® Technology.”

Basically, the article is about a new technology created by Tubettificio Favia that turns “aluminum tubes with StealthCode® technology…into a precious tool of corporate storytelling.”

This is a coating applied to the entire surface of aluminum packaging tubes. Using the StealthCode® mobile app downloaded for free from Apple or Google, one can use a smartphone to read the code and be directed to additional content, whether in the form of a website, a video, or any other online destination.

This application is based on Digimarc Barcode® technology, created by BeeGraphic.

So what does it do? How is it different from older technology? When I did some research, I found that the predecessors of StealthCode® technology have included the QR Code, which was revolutionary in its time, but which cluttered product designs and didn’t always work, particularly with non-linear surfaces. The StealthCode® is invisible to the eye and is active in the coating that covers the entire packaging tube (as opposed to a single location on the packaging on which you have to focus the smartphone camera).

According to the packagingeurope.com article, the StealthCode® “can’t be duplicated and is protected by sophisticated IT systems that protect its authenticity, preventing it from being read if it’s not compliant with the required standards.” What this means is that the StealthCode® is a strong deterrent against counterfeiting efforts, thus protecting the integrity of both the product and the product’s brand or website. And it does all of this while providing the customer with access to a wealth of product information not printed on the packaging.

Implications for Packaging Design

“ToBeUnique: Packaging Becomes Interactive Thanks to StealthCode® Technology” suggests a number of uses for this technology:

  1. In the food industry: “the tube ‘links’ to a food blog or to a video recipe, or even to a page with some advice for the correct use of the product or its storage”;
  2. In the cosmetics industry: “the tube refers to a beauty blog or webpage, to a video of make-up tips”;
  3. In the pharmaceuticals industry: “the app allows you to go beyond the classic ‘patient information leaflet,’ linking to a page with medical advice for the correct use of the drug or for leading a healthy and active life.”

All of these links provided through StealthCode® technology can direct the customer to a manufacturer website, social media website, video, contest, game, or event. The list is endless. But regardless of the destination, the technology offers additional opportunities for customer involvement with the product and the brand. The customer can interact with the manufacturer using this technology as a jumping off point.

How This Will Make Marketing More Effective

Everything I have read about contemporary marketing theory suggests that nothing works as well as multi-channel promotions for connecting with a prospective client. Each time a customer sees a logo or some other reflection of a manufacturer’s brand, he or she becomes more emotionally bonded to both the product and the values the company espouses.

For instance, if a customer hears a radio ad for a product, then sees a billboard with the same message, then reads a social media posting touting the benefits of the service or product in question (such as positive feedback from peers through a Yelp review), the bond grows.

So in the case of StealthCode® technology in particular, this non-intrusive (i.e., invisible to the viewer) technology can provide such a connection and satisfy a prospective customer’s need for more information. As noted in the article, if he or she sees something of interest on the aluminum packaging, there can be an immediate connection with the company’s website.

In some ways this reminds me of NFC (nearfield communications) technology. I had read in the past about large format print posters, for instance, that included NFC chips. Someone interested in more information could bring his or her smartphone (presumably with a downloadable app) close to the poster and then download information that would complement the content of the printed poster.

I’m sure that other technology exists (or soon will exist) to bridge the gap between static commercial printing technology and the Internet: technology that goes beyond the QR code on the side of a building, the StealthCode® accessible on an aluminum packaging tube, or a NFC chip in a poster. But even with the current state of the technology, in all of these cases the customer can access information about the product or company, and the manufacturer can initiate a dialogue with the potential customer.

What This Means for Commercial Printing Technology

In everything I’ve read in the trade journals, I have seen confirmation that multiple exposures to a brand through multiple media create brand loyalty. In the case of commercial printing (either ink or toner on paper), the printed product can be a stepping off point into a more expansive digital realm. This can include virtual reality and augmented reality (which the packagingeurope.com article does not reference) as well as the videos, contests, and such that the article does mention. It can also involve games (now known as “gamification”), which have been shown to also increase engagement between a potential customer and a brand.

In all of these cases, the tactile nature of print can be exploited. People like its permanence, which they may subconsciously interpret as its having more authority than digital media. People like the feel and smell of the paper, and many are still more accustomed to reading physical print book pages than computer screens. But if the various computer technologies such as NFC, QR Codes, and StealthCode® technology can facilitate a customer’s access to a personal website or some other interactive experience, this will surely bring more customers into the fold than will either print media alone or digital media alone. Each can augment the other by involving more of the potential customer’s senses and providing more and increasingly varied experiences.

These technologies are new, and there are a lot of them. One or another technology becomes obsolete quickly as new ones are developed. However, the goal of bridging the gap between ink on paper and bits and bytes on a computer screen makes it very clear that both are essential.

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