Why your agency needs a 3D printer

Justin Pearse is MD of The Drum's content marketing agency The Drum Works and is a member ofBIMA's executive committee. He is a former editor of New Media Age.

Has your office got a 3D printer? If not, don’t you think it’s time you got one?

A race-worthy 3D printed boat

When you’ve spent coming up to two decades in the digital industry, it’s easy to become blasé about technical developments and pretty convinced it’s unlikely you’ll come across anything new that’s really going to change the world.

3D printing made me think again.

3D printing’s nothing particularly new, even though when you first come across it, it’s sure to blow your mind. What is incredibly new is that we’re on a tipping point. 3D printing has plummeted in cost and seen quantum leaps in usability, is about to become mass market and is set to usher in a new industrial revolution that will offer some of the most exciting opportunities we’ve seen for brands since the birth of the internet.

This isn’t exactly a unique view. In 2011, The Economist said, “Just as nobody could have predicted the impact of the steam engine in 1750—or the printing press in 1450, or the transistor in 1950—it is impossible to foresee the long-term impact of 3D printing. But the technology is coming, and it is likely to disrupt every field it touches.”

I’d hazard a guess that one of the first industries to really see the impact will be the digital marketing industry.

3D printing, also known as additive printing, first appeared in the 1980s, with the term 3D printing claimed by MIT in 1995. At its most fundamental it’s a process whereby a digital model directs a printer to lay down successive layers of material to create a 3D solid object. Just search for 3D printing and you’ll come across a wealth of amazing examples to help this make sense. My recent favourite was the university team that came second in a race in a boat they had printed via a 3D printer.

What is really exciting is that the appetite, combined wisdom and creativity of the digital marketing industry is only just starting to be whetted by the technology. 3D printing is only just starting to appear on brands’ horizons. Ford last month, for instance, launched a campaign letting consumers win a personalised 3D printed model of the new Fiesta branded with their Twitter name.

From AR to QR codes, back to interactive kiosks, some of the most magical interactive work is that which seamlessly blends the real world with the digital. The ability to create real physical objects based on virtual interaction offers brands and their agencies the most exciting creative canvas imaginable.

This month a gallery in Japan is launching a 3D printing exhibition that will feature a photo booth that will print a 3D model of you rather than a photo. Forget interactive vending machines, it’s this technology that should truly get digital agencies excited.

I predict a tsunami of 3D printers to start appearing across agencies and forward thinking brands in the next year. In fact, out this month after a BIMA event, my good friend Adam Graham, Weapon 7 CEO, said to the assembled agency heads, “What do you mean you haven’t got a 3D printer, they’re only £1600 now!”

Needless to say, we’re getting one. After all, no one wants to miss the next printing press or transistor. Do you?

Justin Pearse is head of innovation at Bite Communications and a BIMA executive committee member. He is a former editor of New Media Age.

Hear more about the new trends in marketing at The Drum's 4 Minute Warning conference taking place in London on 5 December.

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