Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Studying the potential effects of smart packaging on customer brand engagement within the fast-moving consumer goods industry.

  Obrien Sim (2014 cohort)   www.nottingham.ac.uk/~psxos


Within the past few decades, marketing has been experiencing a shift from the goods-dominant view to a service-dominant view. Originally proposed in 2004 by Vargo and Lusch, the service-dominant logic emphasises on the provision of service through the inclusion of other network actors such as consumers within the value creation process to provide better customised or personalised solutions [1]. This contrasts the traditional good-dominant view which inherited much of its values from economics, defining value as utility that one would find embedded within a tangible product.

Amidst the market’s transition to service-dominant logic, newer constructs were advocated to replace older metrics such as consumer satisfaction which was criticised as inadequate in explaining and predicting consumer behaviour outcomes such as consumer loyalty [2, 3] . This gave birth to the concept of engagement, a metric which was designed to examine the interactive nature of relationships between the firm and its customers. Engagement quickly gained traction within both industrial and academic environments, transpiring a variety of conceptualisations in academic literature and was stated a research priority for the 2010 – 2012 period by the Marketing Science Institute.

Although defined differently by scholars and practitioners, the emerging consensus seems to leading towards defining engagement as a psychological state brought upon by interaction with a firm or brand which could be analysed from three different dimensions: cognitive, emotional, and behavioural [4]. Due to the anticipated benefits that engaged customers bring such as sales growth, superior competitive advantage, profitability, and potential collaboration in new product development [5, 6], firms are aiming to better engage with their customers. This PhD aims to study how engagement could potentially be achieved through the use of smart packaging within the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry.

FMCGs are products that are sold quickly and at a relatively low cost and used with a single or limited number of consumption occasions. Examples include chocolate bars, milk, beer, vegetables, soft drinks, and other products typically found within but not limited to a supermarket. This context was selected due to the industrial partner (Unilever's) interest as a multinational FMCG distributor. Additionally, the importance of product packaging is also escalated within the FMCG industry where without product packaging, the products tend to look immensely identical between brands and are indistinguishable [7].

Smart Packaging

The term smart packaging is not new and has actually been used by practitioners for some time. Traditionally, smart packaging is defined as “packaging with functionality that goes beyond the mere protection and containment function of a product”. It is classified into two categories: active packaging and intelligent packaging. Active packaging refers to packaging that incorporates an active system, into packaging film or containers to maintain the quality or extend the shelf life of a product. Intelligent packaging on the other hand, merely monitors the condition of packaging or the environment which surrounds it [8]. Work on smart packaging was initially heavily-oriented around foodstuff in order to help combat food loss. Smart packaging began to garner increasing amounts of interest when it was identified that a significant portion of global food waste was due to the disposal of food products due to consumer misunderstanding of labels and poor product maintenance during transportation and storage. A common mistake consumers make is mistaking “Best Before” labels for “Use By” labels, discarding food that was actually still safe for consumption.

Recently, industrial practitioners have redefined the term smart packaging into one that can be classified as packaging that incorporates or is designed to interact with electronics. This is evident in the numerous articles and reports available online where practitioners refer to smart packaging in this manner [9, 10], even in the 2015 Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA) World Congress. This technology-oriented definition is also the definition that this PhD is adopting when referring to the term "smart packaging". A review of the existing and prominent smart packaging technologies has shown that these technologies can more or less be classified into three categories.

  • Adaptive packaging – This type of packaging could be said to be the most technologically advanced one amongst the three categories. Adaptive packaging refers to packaging which are able to change its function or behave differently based on the data it is fed. Data can be collected through sensors or directly fed through technological means.

  • Trigger packaging – Technology in the packaging is meant to be used as a trigger which can cause pre-programmed actions to be carried out by other surrounding technology which often results in a unique experience. The main distinguishing factor between trigger and adaptive packaging is the processing of information. Trigger packaging tends to trigger events set up in the surrounding environment but without actually processing the data using the technology within the packaging, which is evident in adaptive packaging.

  • Directive packaging – The main role of technology in these types of packaging is to redirect users to additional content through interaction with a third party device (typically a smartphone or tablet). Redirection typically is done through the scanning of a code or tag. Typical implementations will use Quick Response (QR) or Augmented Reality (AR) codes and Near Field Communication (NFC) or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags which can be scanned through supported smart devices (possibly requiring a mobile application) which will redirect users to additional information or promotional content.


The author's interest lies in trialing adaptive packaging for their line of products designed to be used within a point-of-use setting (such as a household). This decision is not only positively supported by prior literature that asserts usage situations have a higher likelihood to be memorable (tackling the emotional dimension of engagement) but also due to the generally longer amount of time that customers have to interact with the product than at the point-of-sale. Additionally, the potential for personalised service to be provided by the product is also greater with adaptive packaging due to its capability to process new data provided by the user and/or its environment. Hence a number of adaptive smart packaging prototypes will developed for a range of products with a main focus on the functionality or experience it can provide for its users rather than the cost as rapid technological progress is expected to lower the costs significantly and eventually allow its production to be scalable in the near-future.

Research Contribution

The findings of this research will explore the relationship between customer brand engagement and product packaging. Majority of the academic work that have been conducted concerning engagement within the marketing literature has been regarding its conceptualisation. Despite the rising popularity of smart packaging throughout the industry due to beliefs that it could make their branded products more engaging, close to no academic work has been done in studying the influence of smart packaging on customer brand engagement. This PhD aims to study whether or not these beliefs are actually well placed.

From a practical perspective, the findings could also be used by firms to help them make better business decisions. Despite the reducing costs of technology, the incorporation of smart packaging will still incur additional costs on the product packaging. The findings could help advise firms on whether the cost penalties incurred by the implementation of smart packaging can be offset by the benefits of higher levels of customer brand engagement.

Current Progress

A study has just concluded which involved conducting five focus groups with a total of 23 participants to better understand their attitudes towards smart packaging within fast-moving consumer goods. The study aims to:

  • Conceptualise smartness within the context of smart packaging in fast-moving consumer goods from a consumer perspective.
  • Better understand the nature of interaction between consumers and smartly packaged fast-moving consumer goods and how both positive and negative value could be derived from its use.
  • Identify the possible concerns and issues that consumers may have surrounding the use of smart packaging.
  • Collate ideas and suggestions on the features or characteristics of smart packaging that consumers would like to see implemented, along with the product groups that they think it would be suitable for.

Storyboards for three types of FMCGs (sunscreen, alcohol, and ground coffee) were created covering the range of value propositions offered by existing smart packaging applications and those currently being developed. The storyboards were used as a stimulus during the focus group to demonstrate the potential applications of smart packaging of FMCGs. At the time of writing, the transcribed footage is still currently undergoing coding and thematic analysis.


  1. Vargo, S.L., Lusch, R.F., 2004. Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing. J. Mark. 68, 1–17.
  2. Appelbaum, A., 2001. The Constant Customer [WWW Document]. Gallup.com. URL http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/745/Constant-Customer.aspx (accessed 3.7.16).
  3. Leeflang, P.S.H., Bijmolt, T.H.A., van, D., Hanssens, D.M., van, H., Verhoef, P.C., Wieringa, J.E., 2009. Creating lift versus building the base: Current trends in marketing dynamics. Int. J. Res. Mark. 26, 13–20. doi:10.1016/j.ijresmar.2008.06.006
  4. Brodie, R.J., Hollebeek, L.D., Juric, B., Ilic, A., 2011. Customer engagement: conceptual domain, fundamental propositions, and implications for research. J. Serv. Res. 1094670511411703.
  5. Hoyer, W.D., Chandy, R., Dorotic, M., Krafft, M., Singh, S.S., 2010. Consumer cocreation in new product development. J. Serv. Res. 13, 283–296.
  6. Prahalad, C.K., Ramaswamy, V., 2004. Co-creation experiences: The next practice in value creation. J. Interact. Mark. 18, 5–14. doi:10.1002/dir.20015
  7. Silayoi, P., Speece, M., 2004. Packaging and purchase decisions: An exploratory study on the impact of involvement level and time pressure. Br. Food J. 106, 607–628.
  8. Han, J.H., 2005. Innovations in Food Packaging. Academic Press.
  9. Baron, K., Dorfer, S., 2016. Smart Packaging: Absolut’s IoT Innovation Lab| Innovation Research & Advisory [WWW Document]. Stylus Innov. Res. Advis. URL http://www.stylus.com/lcrtjv (accessed 3.7.16).
  10. Donajgrodzki, E., Saven, M., 2013. Heineken’s Smart Packaging| Innovation Research & Advisory [WWW Document]. Stylus Innov. Res. Advis. URL http://www.stylus.com/lqksnj (accessed 3.7.16).

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and Unilever.