Image: AR allows brands to turn drinks packaging into a digital consumer experience. Photo: courtesy of jordache

Augmented reality technology enables brands to bring printed images to life. The drinks industry is thriving, with craft beers, organic wines and uniquely-flavoured spirits now being staples in bars, restaurants and households. With competition amongst manufacturers more fierce than ever, brands have begun using innovative technology to intensify the consumer experience in a bid to stand out in a saturated market.

Drinks manufacturers are increasingly willing to put their money on digital marketing in all its forms, harnessing technologies such as social media and mobile. And now it is the turn of augmented reality (AR) to step into the spotlight. This technology can bring static advertising campaigns to life, transport people across borders and turn packaging digital. Kaan Aydogmus, founder of multi-disciplinary design agency and augmented reality specialists, Magnetic London explains what this could mean for the industry.

What is augmented reality?

"This technology can bring static advertising campaigns to life."

For those who are unfamiliar with AR, it simply bridges the gap between print and digital via a smartphone app. Printed material like product labels, billboards and flyers can host hidden layers of digital content.

Not to be confused with virtual reality, which requires immersive headgear, AR is cheaper and simpler. All that users need in order to participate is a free-to-download smartphone app, such as Layar. Businesses can commission basic AR campaigns for as little as £450.

While AR is by no means a new concept – in fact, it’s been around for years and has already attracted the attention of big names in beverages – it is only recently that drinks companies have realised the potential for this technology to increase brand awareness and strengthen customer loyalty.

Using AR to add value to drinks products

"AR is by no means a new concept."

Several industry giants have already reaped the benefits of incorporating this technology into their marketing campaigns. In 2012, Absolut Vodka – well-known for its creative advertising campaigns – gave customers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of vodka making. It launched an AR app that gave consumers insight into how the spirit is made, following the whole journey from grain to glass.

By scanning the label on a bottle of Absolut, users would be whisked off to the Swedish village of Ahus – where it’s made – to be taken on a 3D tour of the wheat fields, explore the distillery, and even see the bottling process. The app also provided cocktail recipes, encouraging consumers to buy the spirit and become at home mixologists.

During the 2012 FA cup, Budweiser embraced the sporting spirit by augmenting its beer cans, transforming the humble tinny into a 3D FA cup trophy. This created such a buzz that more than 8.5 million cans featuring this technology were sold, making Budweiser the beer of the season.

More recently, Magnetic London worked with a PR agency for luxury beverages, to augment their exhibition stand at drinks trade event Imbibe Live. Their interactive wall could be scanned by passers by, taking them to social media channels and the company’s website at the tap of a finger. Their live Twitter feed could also be seen, simply by pointing your smartphone at the wall.

Mobile marketing company Somo Global recently designed AR Mix – an app that creates musical masterpieces from bottles of spirits and cans of soft drink. Scan your spirit of choice and a vocal track is selected. Scan your mixer, and it adds in the beat.

ARBeerGlass allows beer drinkers to compete against beer drinking buddies on the other side of the globe, in a fun drinking game. A set of six beer glasses, each printed with a unique augmented logo which, when scanned with a smartphone, takes users to different drinking games such as blackjacks and 3D darts – and a beer community social network.

A useful tool: what are the benefits of AR?

"Augmented reality is a useful tool."

It’s clear to see that augmented reality is a useful tool to help brands boost sales and enhance marketing campaigns. But it’s not only businesses that benefit. AR can transform a weekend pint or an evening tipple into a fully immersive experience for consumers – a chance to learn about the drinks they’re drinking, dabble in cocktail making, or simply enjoy a video or game.

It can also be the gateway to an exclusive offer, or promotional discount for their next purchase. During big sporting events, bar and pubs can augment beer mats, beer taps and bar runners to show promotional offers, such as happy hour discounts and buy-one-get-one-free deals.

Then there are the perks for the establishments that sell drinks. Stella Artois used AR to create a punter’s ultimate guide to their local pubs and bars. The app, named Le Bar Guide, points out the nearest Stella vendors and flags them up against your surroundings.

The future of AR in the drinks industry

The possibilities of augmented reality are limitless for drinks manufacturers. The label on a bottle of gin could conceal a cocktail-making masterclass. A billboard ad for fine wines could show a 360-degree tour of the vineyards of France, or take you to a video of a sommelier explaining which foods to pair with each wine. Hidden digital layers in a pub coaster could reveal content for sponsored events. Magazine advertising campaigns could take you to a company’s social media channels.

For the discerning tippler, AR offers the opportunity to dive deeper into the refreshments world and do more than quench your thirst. But for creators and vendors, AR might be a way to pull the drinks industry into the digital age. It’s a quick and economical solution to using cutting edge tech that is sure to engage customers.