Is 3D printing the future of promotional marketing?

There's a digital revolution taking place.

A revolution that means big things for the future of promotional marketing, and the tools we use to make it happen.

There is no escaping technology. Continual advancement is an inherent part of human nature, and the digital revolution has brought this to the fore. Every day there is news of a new – ever more unlikely – innovation offering new opportunities to consumers and businesses alike.

From mobile payment technology to beacon technology, of all the trends to appear over recent years, 3D printing was earmarked as the one to watch for those searching for a digital solution to their promotional marketing strategy.

So, join us as we turn the looking glass on this exciting new frontier for brands, and the impact it’s set to have on the industry…


3D printing (or additive manufacturing) is a process for making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down numerous successive thin layers of a material. Lasers are used to bind the materials together.

While it’s proving slow to gather pace, this technology has numerous uses, offering huge potential across almost every industry.

From health to space, 3D printing is proving its worth

In the health sector, 3D printing is already being used to create customised hearing aids, dental implants and prosthetic hands (not to mention detailed models of organs).

In space, astronauts are using 3D printing technology to print new tools – without having to wait for a delivery from planet Earth. It’s almost mind-boggling, and it’s an important part in the future of promotional marketing technology!

So, how is it impacting the current and future of promotional marketing technology?

3D printing can enable the printing of a range of items from prototypes and movable parts such as hinges, to marketing merchandise. Think branded USB sticks, 3D key-rings, branded mugs, figurines, and more.

It can also enable the cost-effective production of bespoke items – at speed.

As Pete Simmons, Digital Director at creative communications agency Something Big, says:

Looking at 3D printing from a marketing point of view, there are a wealth of opportunities that can enrich marketing strategies and push the boundaries of what this new technology can achieve. For example, big brands like Coca Cola, Volkswagen and Uniqlo have all embraced 3D printing and run successful 3D marketing campaigns by engaging with consumers through joint storytelling.

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One of the pioneers of 3D printing in the sales promotion space was Coca Cola.

When the brand wanted to introduce its new Mini Bottles in Israel in 2013 it invited consumers to create tiny, digital versions of themselves using a mobile app. The digital ‘mini-me’s’ had to be carefully nurtured like a Tamagotchi. Remember them?

Coca Cola’s cutting edge

Consumers who successfully tended their digital replica selves won a trip to the Coca Cola factory, where they were able to use 3D printing technology to bring their mini-me’s to life. It’s not something their competitors were doing…

3D printing produces promotional products fast

The potential for producing personalised promotional products quickly and cheaply using 3D printing is attractive to brands – and it’s easy to see why it’s a focal point in the future of promotional marketing technology.

After all, while technology progresses at a lightning pace, the age-old appeal of promotional products, free gifts and giveaways continues to endure.

Consumers love promotional products!

Just look at the numbers:

  • 83% of consumers like receiving a promotional product with an advertising message
  • After receiving a promotional product, 85% of consumers do business with the advertiser
  • More than half (58%) of consumers keep a promotional product for between one to four years


Innovative packaging continues to engage consumers. In June 2015, US magazine, Packaging Digest ran a survey among its readership to find out to what extent 3D printing is transforming the packaging industry.

The findings suggest a keen interest:

  • Nearly one third of respondents indicated that they are using the technology
  • Two thirds stated that they will be using 3D printing in the next 1-2 years
  • Of those using the technology, almost half (45%) reported that they are doing the printing in-house rather than outsourcing their 3D-printing projects

Consumers crave the personal touch

There is certainly an appetite for the personalisation enabled by 3D.

Statistics from Prime Group show that more than half of customers (61%) say they prefer custom products and custom designs when it comes to product packaging. Unusual materials, a striking label, or a unique shape or design can become the differentiator.

3D printing means brands can test and learn

Packaging is key to drawing shoppers’ attention in a supermarket crammed with products. But finding out which packaging works best for your brand, and which on-pack promotions have the greatest appeal, is an art.

3D printing has provided a solution to this problem. It enables small print runs more cheaply and with greater speed, as well as allowing greater innovation. The ability to print prototype packaging to test and modify different designs and gather consumer insight is a powerful tool in any retailer’s armoury.


In March 2013, Mondelēz International ran a four month £1.2 million promotion on packs of Dairylea Cheese Spreads, Dunkers and Triangles. The campaign gave consumers the chance to win one of ten ‘Holidays of a Lifetime’, as well as one of 20,000 cow fridge magnets which actually moo-ed.

The ten top prizes were awarded to consumers who found one of 10 specially created Dairylea packs that emitted a moo-ing sound when opened. The packs were 3D printed, and the sound was activated by light. It was key to ensure that the special packs were indistinguishable from normal packs in look, weight and feel, to prevent people from cheating.

The promotion was successful, with winning customers enjoying holidays in New York, Dubai, Mexico, and even a castle in the UK.


In 2014, Nescafe wanted to revitalise its instant coffee brand in the face of the growing popularity of craft coffee.

To this end, it turned its instant coffee jar into an alarm clock, with a 3D printed lid that played seven different alarm sounds, such as birds chirping, alongside a soft, pulsing LED light. The only way for sleepy heads to turn the alarm off was to unscrew the lid.

The tagline was quite simply, "Wake up and smell Nescafé".

3D printing was essential to the project. “The greatest benefit to [printing in-house] was being able to make minor changes on the fly during the production process and make sure everything fitted ever-so-perfectly,” said Jean Aw, co-founder of NOTCOT, whose creative studio, NOTLabs 3D printed the limited edition jars.


In 2015, Paul Pavolich, the vice president of US company, Printing 3D Parts, told Packaging Digest:

"The packaging industry hasn’t embraced the full benefits of 3D printing technologies as much as other industries have. We believe more education is needed so decision makers can understand the added value."

It might still be in its infancy, but 3D packaging has been tested by a number of major brands who realise it’s an important part of the future of promotional marketing technology, and its value in gaining an edge over competitors.

Don’t be fooled – but do be brave

Of course, striking a balance between the novel appeal of 3D printing and the need to achieve a clear marketing or sales objective is a fine art. But the beauty, as Nescafé proved, is that small print runs are affordable.

It means the ability to test and learn quickly – whether with products or packaging – can offer valuable insight in a way that had been cost-prohibitive and time consuming until now.

It’s not to be sniffed at...

Are you ready for the revolution?

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