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"?
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.