Significant as they are, the challenges facing the advertising industry because of Obamacare may prove insignificant compared to the challenges facing the advertising industry caused by new emerging bio-technologies. The technology required to analyze and manipulate DNA and RNA has become so inexpensive that anyone with a thousand dollars worth of equipment can do valid research, and anyone with a quarter million dollars can launch a serious bio-tech start-up, and many people are doing just that. Soon, dozens, then hundreds of new bio-tech firms will be looking for advertising agencies to market products unlike anything anyone has ever seen before.
Within five to ten years copywriters will be writing ads for personalized designer drugs, new lungs, new livers, maybe even new immune systems. There will also be whole new types of body enhancements available, too, including implants to extend the basic senses. Understanding what marketing opportunities will be possible will require taking a close look at the technologies driving the bio-technology revolution. Interestingly, one of the technologies likely to drive major innovation in the healthcare industry is 3D printing. It's already having an impact in several areas.
Organovo, a San Diego bio-tech startup, is currently selling what they claim to be the wold's only commercial bioprinter to create living tissue. Their NovoGen MMX Bioprinter is capable of printing a 1 mm by 5 cm vein in about half an hour. A single drop of the live ink they use contains between 10K and 30K living cells. Some have gone even farther.
Researchers at Wake Forest University's Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina have created a printer they believe is capable of printing entire organs for implant into people needing "transplants." This kind of technology would save thousands of lives every year by virtually eliminating the current "waiting list" for human donors. Many people have to wait over a year for the right type organ to become available.
3D printers are already used by some dentists to print dentures for patients. In the future, most dentists will offer 3D printed dentures onsite, possibly while you wait, and at a fraction of today's prices. The multimedia media capability of the pro grade printers means dentures can be created in a single pass that have soft, highly realistic simulated gums, and very hard, realistic, simulated teeth.
One researcher has already managed to print pharmaceutical drugs with a $2000 3D printer by using its laser to print molecules with up to four elements. Printers are being designed now that create more complex drugs, using many different elements. It's only a matter of time before every home has a medicine cabinet that can make medicine as well as stock it, and probably has a built in virtual doctor to diagnose and prescribe medications, too.
Currently, artificial limbs can cost over ten thousand dollars. However, 3D printers will reduce the cost to hundreds of dollars. There's already a partially completed open source robot project available for download from thingverse.com called the InMoov. Only the arms are available now, but that's enough. It wouldn't take a commercial venture long to redesign the robot arm to fit any amputee, and there are interfaces available now that can interface the robotic arm with the amputees nervous system.
3D printers have already been used by doctors to make inexpensive leg, arm, and body braces for people with muscle atrophy issues. A model popular with military amputees, called the Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO) costs about $3,000. Eventually, 3D printing could produce a similar product for under $300.
The prospect for future bio-technologies is substantial, even if you just consider the innovation happening on the commercial level, but more is going on than just that.
The DIY Movement
One of the reasons that bio-engineering will like progress extraordinarily rapidly as new technological revolutions go is because much of it will be driven by the DIY amateur biology crowd, also known as biohackers. These biology orientld geeks are today's equivalent of what personal computer geeks were in the seventies and eighties, back during the beginning of the evolution of the personal computer. Biohackers come in two flavors, those concerned with understanding the human body and how to keep it healthy and functional, and those concerned with enhancing the human body in a wide variety of ways, and they're already doing it.
One popular personal enhancement biohackers seem to like is having small magnets implanted in their fingers to enable them to feel electromagnetic fields. While this may seem frivolous, magnetic implants actually enable biohackers to troubleshoot electronic equipment is ways never possible before. In one case, a biohacker with magnet implants detected the failure point in a chain of electronic components, within seconds, just by running his fingers over the component path. It would have taken several minutes to have isolated the problem the traditional way. There are many other personal enhancements possible. Without doubt, many future personal enhancements will be created using 3D printers.
A challenging but rewarding future
The coming bio-tech revolution will be challenging for the advertising industry. Most of the new bio-tech technologies will be highly disruptive, and will have the advantage, aka selling point, of being far less expensive than traditional alternatives. However, the DIY movement will be playing its own disruptive technology card by constantly trying to make medical products and services free, using open source knowledge and tools. As a result, there may not be incredibly high profit margins in the biotech market of the future, and the long term effect of making the healthcare process more efficient will mean that there will be considerably less money spent within the healthcare industry, but this may not be bad for the advertising industry.
In the bio-tech marketing world of the future, the low cost of entering the market for new businesses will mean there will be a lot more competition than there is now. That means a lot more of healthcare dollars will go to advertising than do now, and that will be very healthy for the advertising industry.
Glen Emerson Morris was a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law.
He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.