As McQueen Gin announces a revamp of its core range to include labels equipped with the technology of augmented reality we assess how much potential the interactive experience trend has.

How does “taking a dive into a black cherry and vanilla gin pool” sound? Or venturing on the mountain of Ben Ledi to learn about its spirit? To be honest, most people would probably sign up for a tour of that box factory from The Simpsons just to get out of the house. But you don’t have to leave the comfort of your couch to witness the above. These are virtual experiences, housed in the label of a gin bottle.

McQueen Gin bottles, to be exact. The Scottish gin brand has announced today the launch of its revamped core range, complete with labels equipped with shiny new augmented reality technology (the new label bottles are exclusive to the brand’s website). Here’s how it works: you download the McQueen Gin app on your smartphone. You then select the function that scans your bottle’s label and voila! Animations will appear on your screen.

The app (available on the Apple and Android stores) also houses cocktails recipes, some brand info and exclusive McQueen rewards. In the bottle I have, the Black Cherry and Vanilla, a David Attenborough-inspired voiceover does a comedic take on the bottling process. You can also watch animated gin bottles jumping off a big slide into the aforementioned black cherry and vanilla gin pool. Which does look terrifically fun. Although I imagine it’s a health and safety minefield.

McQueen Gin pivots to augmented reality

Six months and £20,000 investment has led to this, what McQueen is calling the “world’s coolest labels”. MD Dale McQueen explained the motive behind the decision. “At its core, one of the fascinating sociable aspects of society can be found when we share a drink with our friends, either in the pub or in our homes. With that option being limited in the current climate, we have enhanced this experience by creating an engaging AR experience on our six core range bottles that people will enjoy sharing across social media. We wanted to make not just an enjoyable tasting gin but an experience which would bond people together and give them something other than great taste to talk about”

The pandemic hasn’t just prohibited the vast majority of people from socialising but has also provided drinks brands with plenty of time to decide how to work around the issue of not being able to promote and market products face-to-face. The absence of bars and festivals is keenly felt by all. For the McQueen founders, Dale and his wife, Vicky McQueen, the solution was this kind of innovation, achieved by partnering with a new digital marketing partner, Purple Imp from Dundee. 

The strategy to help the brand become better noticed included designing a new website, streamlining the range to a flagship six gins and giving each a new interactive label. “We love making a quality product in Scotland that’s enjoyed in all corners of the world, but who wants to be another gin company, another brand that’s just forgotten about,” Vicky explained. “We want people to not only drink McQueen (responsibly) but think McQueen. So we brought world-class augmented reality, an individual unique experience, to each of our gins.”

Can augmented reality labels make their mark?

McQueen Gin co-founder Dale McQueen believes in the future of AR

Will augmented reality labels take off this time?

The appeal is clear. Drinks brands are always keen to reach a wider audience and product packaging is one of the key spaces you can grab consumer’s attention. Opening up this space to engage consumers is a logical move and AR has the ability to create a bright and colourful world with just a small marker, like a QR code. Point your smartphone and unfurl a universe. The potential is there to use the technology to announce events, promote new expressions and share recipes, all while positioning your brand as innovative and advanced. After all, it’s better to establish a point of difference then to try and weave false notions of tradition or uniqueness into your story and consequently devalue it. Today’s consumer is inquisitive and has access to all kinds of info. A thin veneer is easily exposed.

So, why hasn’t everyone embraced AR? Well, the truth is, many have tried. Shackleton, Jack Daniel’s , Remy Martin and Jim Beam had a go. As did 19 Crimes Wine, while Chivas Regal tapped into the interest in AR back in 2011. Such go-getters. We even took a swing with our own MoMer’s Web Page Gin. But the technology has never built any momentum. There’s a perception in the industry that AR is popular with marketing departments as it seems cutting edge but people don’t actually engage with it. So far it doesn’t seem to have appealed to consumers beyond the first try and customary Instagram post. The apps become one of those that stay on your phone for months on end until you notice it one day and promptly delete it.  It can also come across as gimmicky to booze nerds who would rather have detailed breakdowns of production processes rather than flashy animations.

They won’t be the target audience that makes or breaks AR, though. Whether it becomes a technology that’s increasingly adopted or something we all look back on and say “oh yeah, I remember those” will be down to the average consumer. It will be interesting to see whether McQueen’s customers engage with it more than once and, more importantly, whether it helps shift gin. The jury is still out on whether augmented reality labels can be a useful marketing tool or a gimmick that’s already looks dated.