Why sustainably-minded brands use augmented reality

Savvy brands like Nestlé are leveraging the sustainable packaging benefits that AR technology offers along with potent consumer engagement.


We now live in an age where consumers are holding businesses to a higher standard of environmental consciousness. An Accenture survey concluded that 62% of Americans want companies to take a stand on issues like sustainability. The good news is that more brands are beginning to listen. “Brand purpose” is the topic du jour in most leadership meetings looking to meet the demands of their consumers around sustainability, environmental impact and social responsibility. It’s not just consumers but the investment community too who are taking a good look at a company’s sustainability credentials as a benchmark of shareholder and stakeholder value. To an extent, we have the digital age to thank for that. A brand’s image may have been built over decades, but its reputation can be tarnished in a matter of minutes by users holding them to account for their actions or, in this case, inaction.

Against this context, Burger King decided to remove all plastic toys from their Junior Meals for kids. It’s a win every time a larger corporation takes a significant step toward changing its business model to reduce its environmental impact. While this is indeed highly commendable, it’s also a savvy move for the business—it draws positive goodwill towards the brand in taking a stance on an issue that matters to people and doesn’t mean the end of driving sales and brand engagement through marketing promotion.

It’s also an opportunity to get creative with their existing assets (their packaging) and connect with consumers on that device that has become the evolutionary appendage we seemingly can’t live without, our smartphones. It also takes out an incredibly costly and organizationally intensive manufacturing, inventory management and distribution headache for the giveaways. Literally everyone wins here.

There’s another important and concurrent narrative at play. Specifically, there are three events that have shifted the way businesses and brands are approaching their mobile strategy in general:

  • The focus from hardware manufacturers on the camera as the key battleground for differentiation between their products which has also led to new software developments through augmented reality.
  • The introduction of mobile WebAR removes the requirement for a native app download to access augmented reality capabilities. Instead, you can access it through any devices connected to the web. The global market of WebAR-compatible devices is approaching 3 billion, compared to just over 1 billion for ARKit and half that for ARCore-compatible devices. That means that WebAR as a distribution method has the ability to reach nearly twice as many smartphones as AR deployed in a native app.
  • The resurgence of QR codes now that they are both GS1 compliant and readable directly from the camera on iOS devices and an increasing number of high-end Android devices.

…and that’s before the introduction of 5G in 2020, which will make the speed and power of devices and use of the camera and AR greater still.


One of the biggest questions and opportunities for brands and businesses has become “what’s your camera strategy and how can you leverage it to drive sales and deeper connections with your end users through more relevant experiences and better data?”

This has huge implications for retailers and consumer-packaged goods brands as it effectively gives them a totally new way to think about their retail estate and packaging. Both can transcend passive print into an always-on media and digital discovery channel serving up contextually relevant information at two key moments of assistance: pre-purchase and at point of consumption.

The potential to build a new owned and direct media channel with your most valuable audience is enormous–it’s a golden opportunity to gather data on their usage patterns like never before and in a General Data Protection Regulation-supportive, permissive manner of course! All without a media fee payable to a third party.

There are a number of big multinational brands already leading the charge in connected packaging with the likes of Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Unilever, Pez and Puma.

Next: More than delivering surprise and delight


Connected Packaging and AR are being used not only for spatial storytelling both to surprise and delight users, but also crucially inform and instruct when it comes to imparting information about a brand’s purpose, provenance and sustainability.

What we’re seeing is that these use cases are dramatically increasing the level of active brand engagement and click-through rates versus other media. And the data captured is helping brands take other important decisions about their new product development, marketing and media strategies.

The science supports it, too. The neuroscience of AR speaks to delivering higher levels of attention (almost double) and all-important memory recall (75% higher) versus other channels. 

AR-enabled packaging, with its infinite scalability and eco-friendly implementation, can achieve both the reduction in environmental impact while maintaining brand impact and user engagement. Grab a smartphone and turn packaging into a digital discovery channel, increasing transparency about product provenance and ingredients and creating meaningful moments of assistance for all the family, all while driving purchase intent, loyalty and repeat sales.


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Nestlé’s cereal division serves as an example of a business adapting to a changing market as well as adopting new brand engagement methods using AR. The old marketing idiom of cereal promotions was all about including toys and FGWP’s (Free Gift With Purchase) in the boxes. Nestlé realized they could achieve the same effect through digital rewards using AR whilst reducing their environmental footprint and overall costs. This was most recently brought to life in their AR campaign on-pack across 30+ markets centered on the new Lion King movie, coinciding with its release. Engagement was simple: customers scanned the back of the pack to enjoy three different educational puzzles and mini activities and unlocked video clips from the forthcoming movie.


In truth, there’s nothing new here, but the real shift is in taking existing tried-and-tested marketing models and making them relevant for the digital age. The fantastic by-product of this move is a simple way to decrease a brand’s environmental impact, increase engagement and interactivity while reducing cost and getting better metrics on campaign performance.

Brands are waking up to the potential available to them right on their packaging, which is their greatest owned media opportunity and data resource. A thoughtful AR campaign can turn mundane, wasteful packaging into a launchpad for an educational, entertaining, and rewarding experience whilst reducing waste. Give the most staunch environmentalist customer a look at the behind-the-scenes process of creating your product, make a meaningful connection with a customer so that they want to continue to engage with your product through a rewards program, or create a game that children can enjoy through a smartphone instead of creating more plastic bound for landfill. AR makes all of this possible using only some creativity and thoughtfulness.

The tech bit is easy. Congratulations to Burger King for doing the right thing for the planet, their customers and their business. Building out a connected pack camera strategy for the business in the new age of spatial storytelling is the next step.