How do you “fact-check” a product?

We live in a world now where authenticity has never been more important. But it’s also harder and harder to identify.

For example, over the past 100 years the media experienced a similar evolution. The way stories are identified and sourced. The format of the content produced. The way in which content is  distributed. Yet, the fundamental purpose and/or product of the industry has remained the same. Gather, package, and share valued information to create a more informed society.

The use of the written word hasn’t changed, but the mechanism for delivery over the past 100 years has evolved dramatically.  From man-operated printing presses to automated printing machines, to the advent of broadcast — radio and television — to the era of 24×7 news on the Internet.

 

You can still buy a printed newspaper though, right?

Linotype operator in a newspaper office in San Augustine, Texas. (Credit: Library of Congress)

Examples of tabloid-style media have existed for a very long time. However, at the end of the 19th Century, Adolph Och purchased the New York Times with the specific intention of authenticity. Sharing information about the economy, politics and the ambition to be accurate, impartial and transparent.

 

The invention of radio and later television were giant leaps forward in how information is digested. Dominating the entertainment industry and creating a powerful new platform for the advertising industry.

The 1990s to Early-2000s

And in the 1990s and early-2000s, the appetite and consumption of media exploded with the advent of cable and Internet. Viewers suddenly had immediate access to 1000s of channels of content and complete control, with the click of a button, to “vote” for their favorite programs. Adding to this freedom, viewers could record programs with ease and even bypass commercials.

The ‘90s also saw the birth of Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Suddenly, consumers had control over the creation and distribution of information. In turn, information platforms were connected to information consumers, allowing the platforms to collect data identifying readership trends and behavior.

Information platforms like Facebook are able to optimise algorithms and automate content in feeds, making any news through these platforms personalized, relevant and compelling. Media sharing subsequently is a mishmash of who you’re connected to and what your viewing history might be.

But again, in an era of “fake news,” authenticity is even harder to identify. So Social Media platforms have had to employ independent fact-checkers.

The result of the data age in media terms? Well, we’ve never had so much information at our fingertips. At the same time we’ve never really felt so clueless.

The BBC, a global news brand known for impartiality, ran a poll in 2017 that found across 18 countries – “79% percent of respondents said they worried about what was fake and what was real on the internet.”

So what has any of this got to do with Product Digitization?

Well funnily enough, there’s a really similar story here. Product barcodes as we know them, started in the 1940s. However, they weren’t that common until the 1970s & 80s when merchandisers such as Kmart began to realise the benefits of the new UPC (unique product code) technology.

40 years later, almost all global trade and retail systems are based on this innovative standard. GS1, the standards body, was formed as a not-for-profit organisation to maintain standards for UPC/EAN and other supply chain technologies.

 

However…


This very important standard hasn’t changed very much over the years. Even in Retail 2.0, the UPC is still at best a 14 digit number, which is enough to store a unique SKU product code — but nothing more. It can’t be networked, it can’t be updated or enriched.

In fact, outside of their own supply chain, the owner of a UPC doesn’t actually own anything. The code is maintained by GS1. POS (point of sale) systems control the usage of that code within retail, and any third party can choose what information to store and share with brand owners. There are examples of 2D codes being developed (such as pharma), but they end up just storing more dead data.

Creating Products “Born Digital”

Like the innovation of the internet and networked media, the supply chain is poised for a big leap forward. The internet makes it possible to give every physical item it’s own unique address. 2D codes mean you can store as much data as you want, and they can be read by any device. Easily.

GS1 Digital Link takes advantage of this new technology to transform traditional product codes in three key ways;

 

  • 2D codes store so much more information than UPC.
  • The internet gives every serialised item its own unique address.
  • It automatically works with consumer-grade mobile technology. Anyone can interact with it.

Even better, it’s backwards compatible with UPC. Meaning that non-networked clients can access the information they need directly from the QR Code.

 

The UPC is an 80-year-old technology. It’s no surprise that companies that took advantage of it in the 70’s are the ones that have dominated the retail environment for the following 40 years.

Shifting Consumer Expectations

More recently, over the past two years specifically, eCommerce has shifted consumer expectations meteorically. Today consumers demand an enhanced experience to justify physical shopping. While the pandemic forced brands to shift priorities to address the need for direct-to-consumer experiences and multiple delivery channels.
As a result of these evolving expectations, brand integrity is top of mind as the consumer goods industry moves into a new ‘normal.’  Brands must establish measures to demonstrate provenance of the goods they produce and sell while at the same time combatting a growing counterfeit market.


Businesses have also woken up to the fact that having a sustainable brand isn’t just a marketing exercise anymore. Being able to place a stake in the ground to prove product authenticity and a brand’s commitment to human, animal and environmental welfare have become the new standard among consumers.

 

Product digitization creates the capability for a brand to provide consumers with rich and interactive information about the provenance of an item, and the values of the brand – where was the product made, how was it made, what is the carbon footprint of its transit, what is it made of and so forth. This data can be gathered and organized by the digital identity of the product as it moves from production and through the supply chain to the consumer. This traceability also means the product can be tracked and engaged after the point of purchase. For example, by giving every product item a digital identity at the time of manufacture, brands and consumers alike, have visibility into a product’s journey through to the point of resell or recycle. This means products can be authenticated at the point of recycle or resell with the brand, creating value for both the brand and consumer.

The original ideas of Adolf Och, still stand true today. If we can be accurate, impartial and transparent. We can all live and benefit from a reality that makes sense to us.

First-movers in this Retail 2.0 space will be at the vanguard of the next retail revolution, and those not planning for these changes are already losing market share — whether they realise it already or not.

 

Authors:

Perraine Bradley is the Director of Product at EVRYTHNG where he is creating the future of connected packaging. On a mission to provide a digital gateway for all the world’s consumer goods, the EVRYTHNG Product Cloud™ connects item-level product data at every point in a product’s lifecycle. Real-time product data faciliates supply chain transparency, brand protection, consumer experiences and circularity.

Jonathan Worthington is EVRYTHNG’s Strategic Development Director and Chief Evangelist, helping consumer goods brands know what their products know. The EVRYTHNG Product Cloud™ helps consumer brands run their business differently, for a smarter, more sustainable and accountable world.

 

References

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-41319683

https://www.gs1uk.org/

https://courses.lumenlearning.com/americangovernment/chapter/the-evolution-of-the-media/

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