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In a retail world of shelves stocked with thousands of products, many of them similar in type and function, how can a brand owner develop an ongoing relationship with consumers? Two companies, custom injection molder SussexIM (Sussex, WI) and InkWorks Printing (Plymouth, WI), a firm focused on advanced digital imaging and label technology, have an idea.

Clare Goldsberry

June 17, 2015

5 Min Read
Digital watermarking creates new avenue of consumer engagement

In a retail world of shelves stocked with thousands of products, many of them similar in type and function, how can a brand owner develop an ongoing relationship with consumers? Two companies, custom injection molder SussexIM (Sussex, WI) and InkWorks Printing (Plymouth, WI), a firm focused on advanced digital imaging and label technology, have an idea.

The companies collaborated on a beautiful solution for the cosmetic packaging industry, which Sussex IM serves, that incorporates "elegant in-mold decorated products offering both visual and tactile experiences that speak to the brand," said the companies' information.

Bob Travis, President and CEO of InkWorks Printing, articulated the primary challenge brand owners are experiencing in today's retail world: "How do you engage with consumers that always have their heads down staring at their smartphones?" Working with new digital technology, such as watermarking, on products helps to create an avenue—content bridging, as Travis calls it—that creates a "legacy of consumer engagement."


Labels have always played an important role in identifying and differentiating products. With the advent of smartphones, the unique identifier QR codes placed on a label or cardboard box can help connect brand owners with consumers. However, as Travis noted, when you're done with the container or the box, you throw it away. "If you can link the consumer to the Internet of the brand owner, you have them engaged forever," Travis said. "This is that legacy of consumer engagement that we talk about."

There are alternatives to the square, black and white QR code, which, Travis notes, are "just plain ugly." Snaptag, invented by SpyderLynk, is a 2D mobile barcode similar to a QR code that uses an icon or company logo surrounded by a so-called code ring. While this offers a different, more attractive look, Travis pointed out that for many companies, having a ring around their logo violates their trademark.

For Travis, digital watermarking is the next big advance in technology. It offers a hidden mark that the eye cannot see but that is picked up by the smartphone, immediately engaging the consumer. "It's the brand experience [companies] want people to have," he said. "The unseen digital watermark is there without disrupting the logo on the package."

Additionally, it brings more engagement at the point of contact: The digital watermark takes the consumer right there. "The purpose of the app is to reduce the number of clicks in a digital experience. The more people have to click, the more likely they will get transaction fatigue," said Travis. "This eliminates that. One wave over the app, and you're there."

SussexIM and InkWorks formed a strategic alliance, announced last fall, to bring in-mold labeling (IML) and decorating (IMD) to a new level using digital watermarking. The technology also has the capability to track and authenticate products.

When the company shows this technology to customers and potential customers, as it did at the recent Health and Beauty Aids show in New York City, "they are very excited about the embedded decoration that is an integral part of the product, particularly for theft and anti-counterfeiting protection," said Keith Everson, President and CEO of SussexIM.
Ed Fabiszak, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at SussexIM, told PlasticsToday that this is an especially attractive benefit for high-end beauty products. "Look at any of the prestige brands of cosmetics, and there has been some massive fraud and counterfeiting going on," Fabiszak said. "There was a recent case in which $10 million in counterfeit luxury items, including cosmetics, were discovered in the UK. Even the brand owners don't know which product is the real thing."

By waving their smartphones over a digitally watermarked product—a cosmetic case, for example—the consumer can be linked directly to the brand owner's site. For cosmetics, one of the popular features is a video that pops up, giving consumers product information, make-up application tips and other ideas to help them optimize use of the product. L'Oreal's app, Makeup Genius, is just one of the many apps that consumers can download to obtain more information and ideas using their iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

SussexIM and InkWorks will be working to develop technology that can accommodate engineering resins instead of the commonplace PP and PE materials. "That's what brought Travis and SussexIM together," noted Fabiszak. "They are suited for more durable products."

Travis explained that IML took off in the United States, because the IML cost for brand owners was the same or less than alternative decorating in current use. Coupled with reduced waste and better aesthetics, it was easy to adapt to IML. "When we look at the IMD world for durable goods, those materials are more expensive than alternative decorating processes. So, unless you need the aesthetics of a thermoformed wraparound design, the value proposition is less compelling.

"Frankly it is something you wouldn't do on an everyday durable product because you couldn't get cost neutral," Travis added. "We've developed materials that work on engineered resins to bring it to a cost-neutral point. When we couple that with other technology, such as digital watermarking, we can change the value discussion to how we can improve their brand essence and create greater consumer engagement."

Fabiszak commented on the companies' goals: "We want to become the experts in resins and film and create our own film, which is why we've developed relationships with film people and are developing a proprietary product."

Additionally, some other applications are being explored, said Travis. One idea is using the digital watermarking technology on stadium cups. "Brand owners are trying to create buzz. Consumers don't know it's there just by looking at the cup. When they learn it's there, the buzz happens," he added. "We can digitally watermark the cups in the stadium at a football game. All have the same image, but the digital watermark can offer various experiences when you wand your smartphone over it, such as play a team's fight song, or offer a free soft drink or 10% off on team apparel."

At this stage of the technology, however, how will the consumer know a container has this capability? "That's the challenge of the brand owner to communicate that—to educate the consumer in some way either through Facebook, Twitter or YouTube," commented Fabiszak. "This marriage we have with InkWorks allows us to provide something unique. This is an interactive application unique to people with smartphone technology, and they'll opt in because we've created something that appeals to their curiosity. We're doing this with digital watermarking."

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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