Industrial revolutions don’t arrive with fanfares and red carpets. They start as small ripples, growing into unstoppable waves.

Earlier this year, a former colleague recalled attending the first ever web 2.0 conference in London. It was early 2005 and the era of Bebo and MySpace and some time before we coined the phrase social media. He ran through the notes he sent to his board, summarised as “wow, this could be a really great branding opportunity.” He shook his head. “The world is going to change forever” would have better described what followed next.

Last week, I attended the AIPIA (Active & Intelligent Packaging) World Congress in Amsterdam. With a number of global technology providers, accompanied by a full schedule of presentation and seminars; it’s arguably the most precise lens on the current progress of smart packaging technology.

Before I share my key observations, I’m going to get my concluding notes right, so I don’t have to re-edit it ten years from now.

“Smart packaging may not change the world (in the same way as social media), but it’s going to change the packaging world forever.”

Here are my 5 key observations:

01 The tipping point is very near.

3-5 years at most. Consumer demand for connected packaging is going to grow so strong, those left in ‘analogue’ territory are going to struggle for visibility. Packaging Digest predicts 2019 will see the NFC curve sharpen noticeably. And this isn’t a digital folly. The power of big data is so compelling, it will become a principle pillar of the 4th Industrial Age.

02 We need to think about connecting people, not packaging.

Smart packaging is a live channel to communicate, gather insights, learn and optimise. For decades, we’ve talked in terms of brand relationships, whilst in reality that relationship dwindles outside the purchase moment. All that’s about to change.

03 FMCG will evolve into a service category, not just packaged goods.

Leading brands in sectors such as beauty will use smart packaging to build a living and breathing experience. Advice, inspirations, communities and customer service are brought into energise a completely new dimension in the relationship.

04 Sustainability enters completely new territory.

With smart tracking, packaging becomes a living entity from production to disposal. Technology, right now, can assist and reward consumers in sustaining and recycling. As sustainability emerges as, arguably, the most powerful of all brand values, technology empowers consumers to make it happen.

05 Barriers to entry are falling… fast.

With NFC tags coming down to just a few cents, and physical footprint nearing the invisible, the practical and financial roadblocks are evaporating. Furthermore, smart packaging’s capacity to draw in big data and consumer intelligence challenges more traditional research tools… and makes the case for brand marketing to move their investments to smart tech too.

Smart packaging has clearly arrived. It’s why Hunter have invested in an exclusive relationship with NFC specialist Thin Film. It’s why we’re building an innovations team, to give Hunter a foothold in the curve and help our clients access its potential. And as the technology proliferates, so will our service offer. It’s going to change our world like nothing else we’ve seen before. In fact, it’s going to change the packaged brand industry too.