Coca-Cola changes face of digital print

150 names were generated in each of 32 countries for the campaign

Few can have failed to notice last summers Share a Coke campaign, with its apparently endless roster of first names staring out hopefully from chiller cabinets. And if it caught the consumers eye, it had a more profound impact on supply chain perceptions of digital print.

After an initial run in Australia, the European extension required the generation of 150 names in each of 32 countries. This was achieved using a combination of HP Indigo presses and conventional print.

Amberley Adhesive Labels is one of eight European digital printers that worked on the project, with 18 conventional label converters. Md Trevor Smith said: “It’s raised digital printing – specifically personalisation – to a far higher level. It’s surprising marketing departments didn’t come up with this sort of idea earlier.”

Very brave move

At brand consultancy Pearlfisher, which was not part of the project, realisation director Shaun Jones argued that it was a very brave move for such a big brand. He said: “This sort of concept can create disruption in a crowded, noisy marketplace. Big brands have all sorts of opportunities open to them, as long as they’re brave enough to embrace them.”

Internationally, there is little doubt that this application has done most to shift attitudes to digital, both in terms of finished product and consumer outcomes.

“Up until fairly recently, digital print was seen as a service, making things quicker but not necessarily better,” said Jones. The perception was that quality and achievable volumes were not comparable with conventional print.

In fact, according to Amberley, control of quality is much easier with digital than with conventional technologies. Many of the toughest challenges, said Smith, were around logistics and the co-ordination of such a large consortium of printers.

“Uptime and productivity on the HP presses had to be as high as possible so, for speed, we ran a single colour typically Coke red along with the names,” he explained.

“In addition, the contracts and other legal aspects required a huge amount of work from Coca-Cola. In future, anyone wanting to do anything on a similar scale will need to think how they can manage a similar consortium, or else work with a single digital supplier,” he said.

Opportunity

For Jones at Pearlfisher, future projects might entail the use of other digital data, linked to location, social media or information held by retailers. “There’s an opportunity for digital print to dial into this," he claimed. “It can create packaging quickly, locally and in small volumes.”

Whether a project on a similar scale could involve other pack types is still in doubt. Packaging innovator at Coca-Cola Research & Development Europe, Brussels, Gregory Bentley, said: “The issue with cans, for instance, is the production speed and the direct print. They are produced at very high speeds, and the decoration process is currently inline. But who knows what the future will hold?”

Smith and Jones made presentations on this subject at Whitmar’s Digital Labels & Packaging seminar last year.

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