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The 3D printing boom began in 2012 when it became apparent the technology was nearing a commercial level. As a printing technique it’s been around since the 1980s, but until recently it has never been advanced enough to enthuse the business world. Since finding regular press coverage, however, 3D printing has found itself entering the public awareness. There are major expectations for the industry, which could become as integral to day-to-day life as regular laser printers.
The business world is never far behind such innovations. Global brands have been experimenting with marketing campaigns over the last 18 months, and there have been varying degrees of success. Coca Cola, Warner Bros., eBay have attempted to steal a march on their rivals with intriguing ideas, but for now the idea of 3D printed marketing remains untapped. Is it something that will be integral to business campaigns in the near future, or is it a passing gimmick? Here’s an insight into how it’s been used to date.
Pioneering 3D Printed Marketing
The process of 3D printing is intriguing. Once a design has been completed the object can be printed off. The printing process is entirely different to standard laser/toner printers, and doesn’t work in an advanced manner you, perhaps, envisaged. Instead, objects are steadily built in layers. Typically a base is formed, and from there the printer works methodically to construct the mode. You can see an example of this in action withMakerBot.
Currently the technology isn’t at its most convenient stage, as printing even minor objects can take several hours. However, as technology advances it has to be expected the devices will be a part of many households.
Despite the limitations the marketing world hasn’t ignored its potential. One of the most notable industries to latch onto the prospect of 3D printing has been Hollywood – numerous studios have utilised the technology in several ways. In late 2013 Warner Bros, for instance, offered the blueprints for the Key to Erebor. This coincided with the release of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. The science fiction film Ender’s Gameoffered a similar scheme.
Asides from the marketing front, 3D printing is now being used heavily in the design of props. 2013’s Pacific Rim was one such film, and more recently Monty Python star and film director Terry Gilliam (currently participating in Monty Python’s stage reunion in London) employed FATHOM and North Design to take his latest film, The Zero Theorem,to a new level. Many of the unique props, as seen on set, were 3D printed, harking back to an era of film when CGI wasn’t so readily available.
Elsewhere, interest in 3D printing is being popularised by the likes of Netflix. The hugely popular streaming video service recently acquired the documentary Print The Legend,which is based on the burgeoning 3D printing industry in America.
There have been a number of other brands to take on the concept in marketing. Coca-Cola ran a “Mini Me” reward scheme in Israel which allowed fans to print off 3D model equivalents of themselves. This was picked up by a number of stores, notably British supermarket chain ASDA. In store machines allow customers to print off versions of themselves or their family – this comes at a price of a rather hefty £60 ($100).
Auction site giant eBay has also become involved. eBay Exact allows users to download an official app and create personalised merchandise and accessories. It’s a novel idea based around the current smartphone phenomenon. As the company explained, “Starting today, iPhone users can download and use our newest app, eBay Exact, to buy customizable “printed” merchandise from three leading 3D printing companies. Customers can choose from roughly 20 items, ranging from technology accessories to jewelry.”
3D Printing Competition
Despite several major brands being involved, 3D printing as a marketing scheme has yet to fully take off. These are pioneering days, but it’s an exciting time as it allows for experimentation. If it is within your niche, for instance, the rewards can be impressive. Creative businesses can take advantage of the technology and subsidise through 3D printing professionals to create unique models for customers to try and win.
Having recently been part of a 3D printing competition for my company, I’ve been able to see the results up close. We ran a design competition for creative companies/students to enter with a unique character – the subsequent promotion through social media proved engaging for the local community. It was a content creation exercise, with many blog posts marking the occasion and promoting 3D printing, our company, and the hard work of emerging design talent.
It all culminated with an awards ceremony in one of Manchester’s leading independent cinemas, where prizes were handed to the very best designs. As an engaging exercise for the local community it proved to be a great success.
3D Printed Potential
Although there are suggestions 3D printing will be a passing gimmick in marketing, the potential is there to be tapped into. These are very much pioneering days for the concept, but the technology is sufficiently intriguing to the public and media to be worth the effort.
The good news is everything is moving at a fast pace, and it’s to be expected 3D printers will become widely available to the public within the next few years. As the commercial opportunities become increasingly viable, a whole world of marketing opportunities are opened up — from unique downloadable goods and content for customers to staging localised design competitions — and the technology has the ability to engage your company with customers in a way social media or advertising can’t offer.
For the companies who dared themselves to try a new tactic, it has been paying off. If you’d like to have a look for your company, there are apps such as 3D Builder to experiment with. There are also many localised 3D printing professionals you can contact for advice, such as 3DSystems. If you’re feeling inventive, now’s the time to give this fascinating technology a try.