Pernod Ricard’s Absolut wants to turn bottles into media platforms using the Internet of Things

Absolut is making headway in its bid to harness the Internet of Things, planning trials for 2016 that will test the theory that the future of marketing is predicated on creating services rather than buying media.

Each year around 100 million bottles of Absolut are shipped worldwide but they’re "static” and can't extend the customer relationship post-sale. Finding a way to exploit that opportunity is a key challenge for many FMCG companies and Pernod Ricard is no different, spotting a chance to use the Internet of Things trend to help make its marketing more service-led.

The solution is to turn the bottle into a media channel; whether its connections powered by NFC, Bluetooth or QR codes, Absolut’s bottle of the future promises to monetise homelife, provenance and on-demand services for the vodka maker. And in a drinks market where it's getting harder to rely on sustained demand worldwide, being able to use all those data points on the bottle to personalise provenance for drinkers for example could be a way to nurture loyalty and encourage repeat sales.

“One of the big questions for us is how we can put the product in a context where it adds value to the consumer,” admitted Markus Wulff, the Absolut marketer that’s heading up the connected bottles drive. Working with SharpEnd, an agency that specialises in the Internet of Things, Wulff has been readying trials for next year that will use the insights from earlier, smaller tests to ramp up the number of connected bottles it trials in different markets around the world.

“What if we created something that was a digital touchpoint, which could extend the relationship with the consumer and give them added value in terms of services and partnerships,” he added.

Wulff is wary of describing Absolut’s connected bottles as a “media channel” too often as he sees it as a conduit for value adding services rather than something to host traditional ads.

“This is not about us creating another traditional media platform, “ he continued. “This is a media channel owned by a brand where we as marketers can control everything. It’s not companies about buying media anymore. It’s about experiencing the media and making the most of your existing assets.”

However, this isn’t just a chance to use bottles as a means to gather more data on people. Wulff stressed that tests were focused on the “consumer not the brand” with any additional insights being a bonus. Marketers already sit on reams on data and given the movement of brands becoming services then it’s clear why Absolut sees future gains to be made from actually monetising those insights.

These services are being brewed up in a new centre at the brand’s base in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, several scenarios have been set up in order to find uses for the connected bottles in connected homes. Where other drinks brands have focused early Internet of Things efforts on counterfeiting and traceability applications, Absolut is very much focused on using that connectivity to shape experiences.

One example is replenishment, which uses the bottle to notify the consumer when it is low when it will automatically order a top up from the nearest delivery service. It’s services like this Wulff believes will open the brand up to partnerships with other apps and services. Another test saw the vodka maker collect data from its production and use those moments to tell the story about the bottle, incorporating everything from the farmer’s name, to how it was produced and how far it’s travelled – an alternative way to deliver the authentication message, claimed Wulff.

Data costs, broadband infrastructure and app maintenance are potential barriers to the arrival of the connected bottle despite the swell of internal support for the project at Pernod Ricard. Indeed, Absolut has talked up its plans for the connected homes regularly this year with a flurry of PR, while the wider Pernod Ricard business has already promised to revolutionise the “bar at home” concept by developing a connected mini bar.

Given the momentum building behind its push, Wulff said the budget for Absolut’s connected bottles would flow from its innovation division although he added that “just like mobile and social” projects like this could become part of its digital budgets in the future.

“It has to start somewhere and then it becomes an echo chamber within the company’s marketing team,” he continued. “As it becomes a service tool then it will probably shift to have its own budget.”

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