Pepsi has introduced beverage vending machines that encourage mobile consumers to partake in random acts of refreshment.
The "social vending" system lets people buy their friends a soda using touch screens. At a basic level, the screen enables regular purchasing. In beverage gifting instances, it will include a keyboard to type in the recipient's mobile phone number, name, and a personalized message. The machine also has a built-in camera so buyers can include a video as part of their gifting message.
How many machines exist in the pilot and where they are located has not been revealed. Wherever they are, so-called social vending will likely spark curiosity among consumers.
It's an intriguing development after Beverage Digest reported last month that the company's flagship brand, Pepsi, had fallen to third place behind Coke and Diet Coke. Pepsi - known for its Refresh Everything goodwill campaign and a bevy of social media efforts - had ranked second for decades in that sales category.
Some considered the slip an indictment of the brand's embrace of social media and de-emphasis of traditional broadcast advertising - exemplified by its withdrawal from the Super Bowl last year. But B. Bonin Bough, PepsiCo's global director for digital, recently told ClickZ that singling out his company's social media marketing efforts for the fall to third place was wrong-headed.
"The whole point of integrated marketing is that it's never one thing over the other," he said. "The people who are going to see continued success with [social media] are going to believe in integration. It's not about isolation."
The machines are the latest entry in the emerging area of interactive, touch sensitive vending interfaces. In 2009, Coke debuted elaborate touch screen vending machines at Cannes, and last year Unilever trialed “Share Happy,” a smile-activated ice cream vending machine.
Meanwhile, an obvious question about the high-tech vending machines if they become widespread: Won't they be expensive to maintain?
Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.