What 3-D Printing Means To The Future Of Advertising

The rise of 3-D printing, argues TBWA’s Aki Spicer, forces ad practitioners to broaden their vision of brand expression—and take a hard look at whether their outputs are adding value.

Around the dawn of the personal computer, advocates proclaimed that there would be one of these fancy boxes in every home. A few dissented, of course. We see who won out.

Similarly, if we assume for a moment that today’s advocates are right and 3-D printing or additive manufacturing is, if not the next household technology, then certainly a transformative business development, then what might it mean for advertising and marketing?

Let’s look to the recent past for a bit of direction on the future.

Consider the dawn of television—the earliest ad executions were considered "experimental," as few staff were actually versed in the skills of motion filmmaking, editing, producing, location scouting. No standards and practices had been established regarding the length of storytelling, budgeting. Hollywood and Broadway craftsmen were part of a boom of hiring and consulting in advertising.

Fast-forward to today and we’re experiencing familiar growing pains afforded by technologies like social and mobile. And again, we’ve come to start solving it by introducing new craftspeople and "new" skill sets to the ad agency—new people who can think natively in these burgeoning communications languages, new people who are still trying to tell product stories that delight and engage.

So now, hello, 3-D printing…

It’s important to remember that few technologies were introduced to help advertising—inventors seem to have bigger aspirations in mind. Whether it was the printing press, the radio, the television, the personal computer, the Internet, the mobile phone, or augmented reality and Google Glass, each has forced (yes, I say forced) the craft of advertising to evolve in response to it.

At its core, 3-D printing foretells of a philosophical shift beyond flat-dimension brand expression—2-D ad slicks, taglines, pictures of things—toward the embrace and execution of 3-dimensional expression: tactile baubles and mementos and experiences. This is no longer just pictures and drawings of things,; this is real things. In the world.

At first blush, agencies will need to become experts (or hire them) in CAD manipulation, architecture (no, really, this time) and display arts, fashion design, and jewelry making. These roles are not necessarily "new" to the world, just not native to the typical ad agency, and increasingly they may become more of a norm in our midst.

Advertisers will be forced to reconcile their physical outputs in the world in a way that spitting out spots and microsites never faced us with. Or, said differently, our ad crap is made more evident when it’s a real piece of crap sitting on a desk or floor. We’ll have to continue to ask ourselve, "Is this additive value or just some more crap?" And the crap factor will, hopefully, make us work harder to do better for audiences who are increasingly immune to our virtual ad crap, more so when it’s physical ad crap.

But these are all the downsides, which we should be able to overcome, right?. The upside lies in our unbound ability to deliver truly unique and physical brand experiences. If our brands have something truly unique to say, why wouldn’t they express it in more dimensions in taglines, in television films, in sites, in check-ins, in pins, and in real "things"?

Aki Spicer

Luxury brands have much to teach advertisers about the value of bespoke craft; one-of-a-kind expression, handmade. Made. Real. Somewhere between the industrial revolution and the information age, ad craft became less crafty. No judgments, but gone were the letterpresses and screen printers. and hand letterers; in came the Adobe tools and CMYK. 3-D printing introduces a middle ground between the realms of virtual craft and physical craft. It opens up a new age of ad craft, a return to cutting and shaping and making, with robot precision, of course. But remember, the robots aren’t gonna make it themselves, they’ll need vision from us. We’ll soon have to craft a new vision for how brands express themselves. And this brings to bear all the best of the past (prose and pictures), the present (experiences and connection), and the futurecraft of tactile and physical thingery. Once again, the narrative transcends the medium.

Aki Spicer is Head of Digital and Content Strategy, TBWA\Chiat\Day NY. For more of Aki’s views on Futurecraft: 3-D Printing and the Future of Advertising Craft, join him at his session at Creative Week in NYC.

[Images: Flickr users fdecomite, Steve Rainwater, and Creative Tools]

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  • T.J. Bogan

    The giddy tone and excitement of the author's voice suggests that 3D printing is an incredibly new, untapped, potentially game changing technological product.  This is not wholly untrue, but it is enough so that it becomes fallacy in the context of this piece.  Homes, offices, retail interiors, shoes, automobiles, and thick-2D graphics have been 3D printed already.  Seriously, the tech has been utilized and expanded by architects, designers and artists for the better part of a decade.  It is only now, with the widespread visibility of MakerBot and similar amateur-friendly devices, that so many people are joining the bandwagon to learn and write about 3D printing.  The printed objects shown in the embedded photos are the most trivial examples of digitally manufactured things.  Their value matches that of a Happy Meal toy. Unadventurous toys, then junk.  The tech that made these 'cat' and 'yoda' figures is not the tech that is printing architecture.  Also, how can it be so difficult to preach about 3D printing without ignoring the wealth of digital manufacturing-prototyping methods that always come into play in significant applications and that have also been emerging for quite a while (i.e. laser-cutting, CNC-milling, water jet, etc.) It is disappointing that those who choose to write most extensively about this topic are novices who have not yet transcended their initial awe at the prospect of making something from nothing.  Just because we can does not mean we should.  My close friend and housemate works and thrives in the social media arena; thus, I have been both marveling at and learning the "experiences and connection" stuff.  As a nod to "The grass is always greener", I find that being able to manifest such massive effect with as little matter as possible is so much closer to magic than these 3D ad pitches of which the author speaks. By the way, as an architecture practitioner, I will say with authority that the author's image of what architecture is is entirely wrong. We are in the business of doing more with less, not less with more, not more with more.  If the author would suggests some concrete suggestions of what he envisions 3D printing can do for consumers, or in what good ways it would actually change the game, it would be more enticing to debate the future. But, if it's about saturation, don't bother.

  • UrsusMichaelus

    "Immune to crap." Consumers should be, since 3-D printed crap is just that: more crap being shoved down our throats in the name of commercialism. When there is increasing talk of social resonsibility in new technologies, I don't hear any such thing when 3-D printed junk is concerned.

  • Matt Hryniewiecki

    We love 3D printing technologies at Magnefire Studios in Chicago and are incorporating them as part of consumer oriented marketing campaigns. It offers both challenges and rewards but it's definitely a welcome medium.

  • $2353470

    So ... incorporate 3D printing into a FAX machine, use a 3D scanner at the origination end and you've got something that *transcends* "teleporting" because you still have the original object at the origination end.  or something like that.

    I wonder how many patent applications for this will be filed in the next week.

  • Matt Hryniewiecki

    There are desktop 3D scanners available. Scan and send the file to your buddy with a printer. Done. No patent needed. :)