Wine is starting to catch up with other drinks in its use of technology. From QR codes to augmented reality, and steps into virtual reality and the multiverse, how can you keep up with what’s new to help sell your brand?

In Jon Reay‘s debut insight for Ben Franks Wine, he let’s us know what drinks brands are currently doing to reach the customers who matter the most. 

We all know that drinks are multi-sensory. It’s not just the taste, it’s the sweet smelling aroma and the sound of the cork popping. It’s the elegance of the glass and the feel of the bottle. Increasingly, the experience is also a digital one – adding a new dimension principally through our mobile phones.

I know what you’re thinking. We’re bombarded by digital relentlessly throughout our day and maybe a glass of wine or a cocktail is a good opportunity to put down our phones for a minute. I don’t disagree. Yet our phones can enhance the experience of drinking too, immersing us beyond the liquid.

Here are some of the digital experiences you can tap into today and what to expect tomorrow. You might want to pour yourself a glass to enjoy while reading.

Dedicated mobile apps

Various mobile apps exist that can be used to ‘activate’ drinks bottles, cans, special glasses or coasters. Some are dedicated for the purpose from specific drinks producers. Others work across multiple brands so you’re more likely to download and have the app already.

19 Crimes uses Augmented Reality (AR) to reveal the confessions stories of those featured on the bottles. You can even get Snoop Dogg to talk to you from the one he’s pictured on. The Living Wine Labels app behind 19 Crimes also activates experiences for a number of other drinks brands.

Toast Ale has used the Strax AR app to reveal hidden video content and competitions. Strax AR enables brands to dynamically manage what shows up when people activate their cans or bottles.

City Social (video below) and The Alchemist (pictured above in article feature image) have both made highly creative AR experiences for their cocktails. They’re activated by pointing dedicated apps at special coasters that are unique for each cocktail on the menu.

The Vivino app enables you to scan any wine label or wine list to get information about it. This works for any wine not just those, still in the minority, with specific digital activations made for them.

Apps enable the richest digital experiences, but at a price – users have to download and install the app first. This barrier can at best make for a slow or clunky process but is likely to put many people off completely.

No app required

Fortunately, the capabilities of native mobile web browsers and technologies are maturing and there are a number of digital experiences emerging that don’t require an app download.

The simplest example is our good old friend, the QR code. These are increasingly being printed directly onto labels enabling people to find out more about their drinks – from brand stories to tasting notes and serve suggestions.

Rabble Wines features an immersive AR experience that you can unlock directly in your browser by scanning a QR code or going to, then pointing to one of their labels.

Diageo’s Virtual Mixology uses WebAR technology to provide a visual step-by-step guide for bartenders and aspiring home mixologists to create one of four special Johnnie Walker cocktails. The experience places animated virtual ingredients into your real glass as you mix your drink.

Near Field Communication (NFC) is the latest technology that makes it easier to activate digital experiences. Rather than a QR code needing to be printed or a web address to type in or app to download, NFC tags are small electronic chips that can be encased into bottle caps or special glasses for example. People with compatible phones (most of today’s smartphones) can just put their device near the NFC tag to open a web page or perform some other action directly. You’ll be most familiar with the technology for contactless payments but it is increasingly being used for other purposes.

Use of NFC in Boen Wines

Böen Wine connected bottle caps (Credit: SharpEnd)

Böen Wine has embedded NFC technology into their bottles, allowing drinkers to explore a virtual farmhouse.

Beyond the mobile, voice assistants are also being used to activate experiences to accompany your tipple. Talisker’s Tasting Experience takes drinkers on an interactive audio journey via Amazon Alexa or Google Home to learn about the brand’s range and heritage.

Personalised experiences

As well as unlocking something that everyone gets, drinks brands are increasingly personalising their digital experiences.

Downstream, the world’s first Blockchain beer, includes a QR smart code on their labels, taking drinkers to an online experience that uniquely identifies where that bottle or can was produced.

Downsteam blockchain beer

Downstream’s smart QR codes reveal personalised information about your beer

Gifting is a huge chunk of the market for drinks brands. Consumers are always looking for ways to personalise their gift. Diageo’s Message in a Bottle offers people an innovative and unique way of personalising their spirit gifts by adding a recorded audio message or a text note to their purchase. A special collar is printed with a unique QR code linking to the personalised message.

The future

What’s next for digital to enhance the drinks experience?

The mobile is the most ubiquitous device and we expect to see a lot more immersive and personalised experiences from drinks brands reaching the broadest audience via the browser not an app.

We’ll see more NFC as chip costs fall and their use becomes as familiar to consumers as the QR code is today.

Gifting will continue to innovate too. It would be perfectly feasible for a gifter to attach a personalised message to a specific NFC-enabled bottle which can then be revealed by the giftee.

What about Virtual Reality (VR)? VR headsets can take the multi-sensory experience to a new level. Drinks brands have used VR to enable people to explore vineyards, attend wine tastings or “teleport” them to enjoy their Sex on the Beach on the virtual beach!

The metaverse is a whole new virtual playground in which drinks brands are experimenting. However, I expect we’ll see more digital experiences augmenting the real than replacing it. Thank goodness for that!

Enjoy your drink and whatever you choose to go with it.