Henkel's Right Guard is testing use of printed electronics to power flashing lights in corrugated in-store displays at Walgreens stores in the Chicago area, a first step for a technology from Arizona start-up company Nth Degree that could eventually bring low-cost streaming video to printed displays, packaging, direct mail or magazine inserts.
Other tests are in the works involving other marketers and formats, according to people familiar with the matter, including one expected next year involving printed electronics on packaging for a Procter & Gamble Co. brand, believed to be a tissue-towel brand. P&G declined to comment on the project.
Anil Selby, VP-business development for Nth Degree, declined to comment on tests involving marketers, though he said the company has been in discussions with P&G, General Mills, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo, among others.
Even for hardened marketers, it's hard to get past the gee-whiz factor. "It's just incredible what they're doing," said Tom Owen, director of in-store merchandising for Henkel of America (formerly known as Dial Corp.), when Nth Degree executives showed him an 8½-by-11-inch sheet of paper running a video snippet from the original "Star Trek" series. (Moving newspaper photographs in Harry Potter movies come to mind.)
Henkel is taking a disciplined approach to evaluating the technology's commercial potential, which it's been testing in 27 Chicago-area stores, compared with a control group using the same basketball-themed display without the electronic enhancements in 27 other Chicago stores.
"When it comes to investing in something nationwide, cost will be a factor," said Mr. Owen, who has been working with the Alliance in-store marketing unit of corrugated display maker Rock-Tenn Co.
Nth Degree, based in Tempe, Ariz., near Henkel's Scottsdale headquarters, uses "wafer printing," employing conventional presses to print layers of ink that act like circuit boards.
The Right Guard displays use battery packs, but Mr. Selby said it's also possible to affix a wafer-thin power source directly onto paper or a package. He said he sees printed streaming video as part of a second phase of the technology's rollout.
The wafer-based inks are 90% more efficient than fluorescent lighting, environmentally friendly and can be powered using solar collectors, Mr. Selby said. The technology can be mass-produced cost effectively for as little as 20¢ per unit, he added, though initial installations are in the $3 to $10 range. That's one reason the company has targeted store displays that can reach hundreds or thousands of people at once.
Scale, individual attention
Mr. Selby ultimately sees the technology being used for outdoor ads, or as a cost-effective replacement for LED video displays in retail. Nth Degree can make displays individually addressable, allowing different messages in different stores.
Magazines also have been taking a look at electronic-ink technologies, most notably in the case of Esquire, which used it on the cover of its 75th- anniversary issue. Get a behind-the-scenes look at how that cover was put together in a 3 Minute Ad Age.