The need to deliver a defining brand experience both in-store and at-home is creating a revolution in the packaging space—a revolution driven by digital printing technology.
While in the past, manufacturers would print large volumes of static packaging to meet commercial press quantity requirements, today, innovation in variable data digital printing is unleashing new packaging possibilities. Unlike conventional printing methods like flexo, litho and gruvere printing, digital doesn’t require any plates or setup, which means a near-infinite number of content variations can be produced in one seamless run without incurring any overrun.
Personalize packaging may have once been reserved for high-end products, but as innovation in digital printing makes mass customization fast and affordable, a growing number of brands are harnessing the capability in order to reinvent their product experience. Three standout brands evidencing what’s possible are Amarula, Oreo and Budweiser.
1. Amerula’s “Name Them, Save Them” Campaign
The most effective social cause campaigns are those that deploy personalization. Amarula demonstrated this with a campaign that personalized the plight of the elephant. The African elephant serves as the iconic symbol of the Amarula Cream Liquer because the drink is made from the fruit of the sacred Marual tree of Southern Afica—a fruit that elephants travel miles to feast on. But with the elephant population dwindling to a mere 400,000, Amarula decided to amplify their conservation efforts through a multi-phase global awareness campaign.
Designed to make the life of each endangered elephant feel personal, the “Name Them, Save Them” campaign invited international customers to visit an online, ‘digital savannah’ where they can select, customize and name a virtual elephant. Customers could share their personalized designs on social media and Amarula donated one USD to a conservation group for every design created. But while phase I of the campaign worked to increase fundraising and awareness efforts, it was phase II of the campaign that really drove product sales. The second phase involved printing the one-of-a-kind elephant designs onto the labels of 400,000 bottles – one for each remaining African elephant, and distributing the bottles to retail locations across the world. Because the production workflow was entirely powered by digital printing technology, the bottles were produced and shipped in less than a week, and customers were compelled to seek them out in order to own a one-of-kind creation.
By asking consumers to give a name and face to each endangered elephant, Amarula brought attention to the cause while increasing emotional connection to their brand.
2. Oreo’s “Colorfilled” Campaign
As more CPGs launch direct-to-consumer models, customized packaging is becoming essential to the creation of a memorable brand experience. Oreo is one brand that was quick to recognize the packaging opportunity. Right before the holiday season, Oreo changed it colors and its packaging for the first time ever as part of Mondelez’s larger customization and direct-to-consumer business strategy. Titled the “Colorfilled” campaign, Oreo invited consumers to tap into their inner artist and transform a pack of Oreo cookies into a personal holiday expression that they could have delivered to their door.
Fans personalized the iconic Oreo wrapper by choosing a black & white illustration from one of two graphic artists and “color-filling” the design by using a digital paintbrush or by having the black & white package shipped their house with colored markers. Additional personalization elements included the ability to accessorize the Oreo cookie in the center and use the circular shape of it to spell out holiday greetings like “Joy” and “Ho Ho Ho.” Users could also add gift tags to the corner of the packages with the recipient’s name and a heartfelt note. Some of the personal messages customers added were truly inspirational, from marriage proposals to pregnancy announcements and “I miss you” messages to parents. The one-of-a-kind packaging project turned into something bigger than Oreo even imagined—an opportunity for the brand to play a role in major life events.
Through the “Colorfilled” campaign, Oreo realized that personalized packaging can create a memorable D2C experience that consumers can’t get in store, and these lessons are now guiding the future ecommerce growth of the company.
3. Budweiser’s “Spirit of the States” Campaign
One of the most popular applications of digital printing in packaging is localization, whether it be to enable retailer, demographic, seasonal, SKU or campaign-targeted promotions. Budweiser leveraged the power of localization with a campaign celebrating the 11 states where the company has breweries. For a limited time, cans and bottles sold in these local markets were completely state-customized in order to inspire residents to cheers to their state.
To celebrate the spirit of the states, the ‘Budweiser’ name on cans and bottles was replaced with each state name, the ‘King of Beers’ slogan was swapped with each state’s motto, ‘Anheuser-Busch Inc’ was replaced with each state’s nickname, and the center ‘AB’ monogram was updated to the state’s initials. Labels also included patriotic elements, such as lyrics to the National Anthem. With Budweiser brewed across the US since 1876, the goal of the state-themed packaging was to pay tribute to the 12 US breweries and celebrate the communities and consumers that support them. Local pride was further celebrated with community events, including Budweiser brewery open houses and festivals featuring local food and music. The company also featured local brewmasters in custom radio spots around the market.
Through the digital production of localized packaging, Budweiser was able to position itself as a ‘local product’ that could rival the appeal of craft beers while tapping into patriotic sentiments.
The Digital Future of Packaging
Continuing personalization efforts like these are inspiring other companies to experiment with digital print packaging, especially as new digital presses come to market that can handle large formats and direct-to-shape printing. Global brands in particular understand that they can no longer compete with mass production models.
As digital printing continues to revolutionize the industry, the brands that embrace the innovation and use it to create dynamic packaging that speaks to consumers will be the ones to capture in-aisle attention and D2C program loyalty.