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Exclusive Q&A: Jones Soda Co. & Sub Pop Records launch AR promo

Jones Soda AR bottles
Jones Soda Co. and Sub Pop Records are teaming up on AR bottle labels.

A vertical craft soda retailer and a legendary independent music label are leveraging augmented reality (AR) in a product labeling partnership.

Chain Store Age recently had a discussion with Curt Thompson, director of marketing for Jones Soda Co., and Nick Duncan, A&R coordinator for Sub Pop Records (which famously discovered “grunge” bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden), about a joint promotion the companies have been running during summer 2022.

Known as “Reel Labels,” the promotion features exclusive video clips from recording artists on the Sub Pop and its Hardly Art subsidiary labels that customers can see and hear by scanning select soda bottles with the Jones mobile app.

Artist bios, tour dates, and social media pages are promoted directly from these clips, which are also featured on Jones' social channels and through retail displays around the country. Jones Soda sells bottles with the promotional labels directly to consumers via its e-commerce site, as well as through third-party retail partners.

How did your two companies decide you wanted to collaborate on this promotion?

Thompson: Jones Soda Co. has a long history with music, and has worked with some record labels in the past. But we were looking for the right partner that we could work with to bring music to the people. So, we thought, who was the coolest partner we could possibly imagine working with, and that is how we reached out to Sub Pop Records.

Duncan: A huge part of our responsibility as a record label is to develop an audience for our artists, especially like new up-and-coming bands. The way that people are consuming and discovering music is changing now, faster than it ever has before, whether it's social media, or YouTube or streaming services. And so anytime like an opportunity is presented to us about a creative and unique way to introduce new music to new potential fans, our ears perk up.

How did you get the actual idea for AR labels? It’s a little bit outside the everyday promotion.

Thompson: The genesis of it really comes from the fact that Jones Soda has 25-plus years of featuring user-submitted art on our labels. In the early days, it was all photography. But at one point, we thought, what could be better than photography; and we thought about video and started thinking how can we possibly do video on our labels? And that's what led us to augmented reality.

Who developed the AR technology behind the promotion?

Thompson: It's something that we built in partnership with an agency. This is probably the biggest consumer-facing tech solution that we've built, but it is not the last. We also built the mobile app you use to activate the AR feature on the labels.

What type of results has Jones Soda been receiving from this promotion?

Thompson: People are super excited to see the new artists on the bottle and see the innovation, because they look to Jones Soda to discover new things around around art, music and culture. And the program is really delivered on that element of it. We've certainly noticed a huge uptick in our social following and our social engagement around this promotion

What type of results has Sub Pop been receiving from this promotion?

Duncan: Anecdotally, I could say like social media response to the bottles has been positive. A lot of the artists have posted or shared stories of the labels. We've met with a really excited reaction.

In addition to your DTC efforts, how have Jones Soda’s retail partners responded?

Thompson: We were pleased to see that retailers have been very interested in this program. We did develop some custom POS subheader cards that go on our regular retail displays, and retailers across the board have been very interested in it.

We have found that some retailers that we were not expecting had an interest in taking on this product, because we have a music offering. So, we had several record stores reach out to us that wanted to carry Jones Soda, even though they haven't historically had a soda brand in their store before. We have picked up a new distribution channel with the unusual outlets, not just the conventional grocery stores.

Do you plan to continue this partnership beyond the current AR promotion?

Duncan: Sub Pop will definitely continue our partnership with Jones Soda. We will discuss what form that will take.

Thompson: Stay tuned for 2023. We have plans to improve our technology. We are planning a refresh of our augmented reality.

[Read more: Augmented reality opens up new opportunities for retail innovation]

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