Thursday, December 15, 2005

Is That Cereal Box Blinking?

You go into the cereal aisle of any supermarket and you can see hundreds of colorful boxes, all trying to draw your attention. Some of them have cartoon characters to attract the attention of youngsters. Others have luscious fruit sitting atop a heaping bowl of puffy, crispy flakes, which have been “enlarged to show texture.”

Marketing is big business, as is advertising. Packaged food companies spend millions trying to make their products look better than everyone knows they really are.

But in a year or two, those static images and colors on cereal boxes may be passé. Think animation on cardboard.

That’s right; Siemans Electronics is developing a technology that will allow manufacturers to place flashing images and even animation right there on the box of cereal, or any other packaged grocery item.

The technology will make those cereal boxes come to life. Store aisles will light up like a Las Vegas strip. It is certain to grab your attention, which is what the manufacturers are banking on.

The paper-thin polychromic display is powered by tiny, ultra-thin batteries and driven by electronic memory chips embedded into the box.

The technology has been around for awhile, but Siemans’ breakthrough is in the price. A display panel that could fit on the front of a cereal box costs only about 30 cents, compared to 40 bucks for previous technology that could do the same thing.

The resolution of these small displays is not high, only 80 dots per inch. And right now, they are monochrome, like the display on a calculator. But by 2007 Siemans thinks the resolution will double and the display will be in color.

The first application of the technology will probably be as attention-grabbing advertising. But think of the possibilities.

Cooking directions could be provided via on-box animation, or information about similar products could be flashed in front of the consumer.

Eventually, programmable and updatable versions of the technology might be used to bring current news and information to an otherwise typical sheet of paper. With an interface to the Internet, news, advertisements, even coupons could be downloaded.

The technology will be great for ad agencies and advertisers if Siemans manages to perfect mass production of it. But a populace that is already bleary-eyed from an advertisement overload may not welcome the new way to grab their attention.

Pop-up ads, animated banners, and even sound-enhanced ads are all over the World Wide Web. Commercials on television are taking up more of the programming hour than they used to. And each year they get flashier.

It’s nearly impossible to travel down a lazy country road without seeing a giant billboard advertising everything from liquor to hospital care. Advertising is everywhere; it’s ubiquitous and unrelenting.

But don’t blame the technology. If I have to watch an advertisement, I’d rather it be somewhat entertaining than mundane.

And if Siemans has its way, the next level of product labels will be anything but boring.

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