The Universe is Changing. Again (with Advent of Digital Packaging and Labels)
Unfortunately, some other old school companies have either short memories or never took seriously the admonition of Georges Santayana: "Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Within the storm of change, the safe haven for the analog guys was packaging and labels. The logic seemed unassailable. Both require large runs, making them unsuitable for digital presses. Digital presses are too slow, have too many substrate limitations to be useful or profitable for the unique needs of labels and packaging, and no one needs that fancy-schmancy variable printing on packages.
For the past few years, several leading digital press players have been developing, building and selling machines that make short runs of folding cartons, labels and POP displays. They have been quietly reaching out to advertising agencies and corporate brand owners, showing them how digital printing offers an entirely new way to leverage brands, align with customers and address the needs of an ever-changing and increasingly fickle marketplace. And those folks are starting to pay attention.
They have seen numerous examples of customized or short-run labels for wine bottles, candles, golf ball sleeves, micro-breweries, and more, some of which could be replicated on conventional presses—at a higher cost. But even some non-custom jobs can fit well on digital presses, gaining an edge by minimizing changeover times between multiple short runs. Still, such apps are the label and packaging equivalent of customized brochures, or short-run books and manuals in production printing and graphic arts. They fill some niches, and one is justified in asking whether digitally printed labels and packages can translate into profits for a print provider. And can such jobs scale?
Your Very Own Coke
The latest poster boy for what really can be done with digital label printing is a recent program HP did in conjunction with Coca Cola placing personalized labels on Coke bottles across Australia, and was then replicated in Europe. Consumers could walk into a supermarket and find Coke bottles labeled with their own name or the names of friends, colleagues, and family members. Great for parties, gifts, special occasions, office refrigerators, and more, people couldn’t get enough of them, snapping up the personalized bottles as fast as they could be produced.