After publishing an article about connected packaging in Big Picture magazine earlier this year, I was introduced to Cameron Worth, the founder of the SharpEnd “Agency of Things™” in London. The SharpEnd agency works directly with global brands to help them maximize the opportunity that emerging “Internet of Things” technologies can provide.
In addition to developing strategies, creative, prototyping, and pilot projects, SharpEnd can help brands scale up successful programs.
“Smart packaging is our bread-and-butter right now,” said Worth. SharpEnd also helps brands evaluate and test technologies for retailing, experiential marketing, and the connected home.
A New Type of ‘Agency’
When discussing SharpEnd, Cameron Worth hesitates to call it an agency. He doesn’t want SharpEnd confused with a traditional advertising agency that plans campaigns, writes catchy slogans,and buys advertising space.
SharpEnd helps brands choose emerging technologies that fit the technographics of their target market.
“We start with the consumer value proposition and why a brand would want to implement a certain technology in the first place,” says Worth. In the smart packaging space, Sharp End develops prototypes for several types of connected packaging that the brands can evaluate in private.
If a test program is successful, SharpEnd can help clients make the business case for converting a test project into a large-scale deployment.
“We can work with the brand’s existing providers to help them scale up,” says Worth. Working with packaging manufacturers and converters, SharpEnd employees can help test whether a certain technology concept fits in with existing manufacturing and shipping processes. For example, they have studied how the performance of an NFC chip is affected after it goes through a heat tunnel.
When SharpEnd was founded in 2014, it may have been the first company to promote itself as an IoT (Internet of Things) agency. Worth describes SharpEnd as “an activation partner” for the fast deployment of emerging marketing technologies.
“A massive transformation of opportunity is underway,” says Worth. “We have a responsibility to make sure that people are making the most of these opportunities.” He believes brands must understand the full possibilities of a new technology in order to get the most out of it creatively.
SharpEnd currently has offices in London and Stockholm and plans to open a U.S. office before the end of 2018. SharpEnd clients include Unilever, Pernod Ricard, British American Tobacco, Nestle, and Pepsi.
One connected packaging project SharpEnd is currently working on is a scale-up of a project for Malibu-brand rums and cocktails. Last summer, Malibu applied NFC chips to over 45,000 bottles distributed to 1600 Tesco stores. SharpEnd recommended “near-field-communications” technology because it doesn’t require the consumer to download an app to activate it. They used a printed neck-hanger on the bottle to encourage consumers to connect with the online content.
SharpEnd also demonstrates how “smart spaces” and “smart ordering” can create memorable brand experiences. For Malibu, SharpEnd created a virtual-reality experience for retailers that was much more engaging than a PowerPoint presentation. The immersive brand world contained ads, gifs, recipes, and even retail guidelines. The smart ordering project involved a connected coconut-shaped drink cup.
In researching my article, “Connected Packaging as a Marketing Channel,” I learned that brands are curious but cautious about emerging technologies such as augmented reality, NFC, embedded smart codes, conductive inks, and printed electronics.
Early attempts to use QR codes to connect consumers to digital content failed because the “interactive experience” detracted from the consumer’s overall experience with the brand. Instead of connecting to content that was updated, useful, or engaging, the first QR codes often connected to static, boring websites that didn’t display properly on the consumers’ smartphones.
With the right combinations of technology and creative content, brands today can avoid those issues.
As SharpEnd demonstrates, packaging isn’t the only object that can be connected. Perhaps other forms of Internet of Things connections can generate more immediate sales results (e.g. “smart ordering.”)
From what I have observed over the years, major new technologies (e.g. wide-format printing, the internet, cameraphones) didn’t really take off until some determined, creative people demonstrated killer applications that could achieve large-scale success.
For example, analysts have discussed the potential of “mass-customization” of consumer products for years. But it didn’t catch the attention of major consumer brands until HP and Coca-Cola teamed up to prove that packaging can be customized and personalized on a global scale.
Because SharpEnd can help brands with everything from strategy to creative execution and technology selection, the “Agency of Things” seems well positioned to help accelerate the adoption of connected packaging and other Internet of Things applications. Check out SharpEnd’s work by visiting http://io.tt.