The future of vending machines

By Sophie Strang

Ice vending machine

Vending machines have great potential as a new way for brands to connect with consumers, but there is a fine line between brand activation and empty publicity stunt and brands must be careful.

The first vending machines appeared in the UK in the Victorian era, selling things like post cards and cheap sweets. Since then, vending has come a long way, morphing gradually into the ubiquitous chocolate-and-crisp-stuffed machines that we see in train stations and office corridors today.

Anyone who grew up in the UK, will surely remember the agony of their coins being rejected by a machine, a packet of crisps dangling off the edge of its row but refusing to fall down, frantically shaking the machine when it refuses to give you your change.

It’s fair to say that they feel a bit old fashioned now. And yet, in a world where convenience is king and media is fragmented, more and more brands are making use of vending to connect with consumers in innovative ways and in different social environments.

1. Coca Cola has become famous for (amongst other things, of course) its creative use of vending machines in its brand activation campaigns. In Singapore, they programmed a vending machine to dispense Coke when somebody gave it a hug- ideal for the drinks company who claim to ‘own’ happiness. 

2. Oreo caused quite a stir earlier this year with its Trending/Vending machine which dispensed custom 3D-printed cookies for hungry punters. In a tie-up with Twitter, two custom-made vending machines allowed people to choose from twelve trending colours and flavours. The custom-made cookies were then created before your eyes and delivered in less than 2 minutes- an excellent expression of their positioning as the cookie “filled with wonder.”

3. Australian rice brand Fantastic Delites created a vending machine they called the Delite-o-Matic. By forcing people to complete various challenges in order to receive a free pack, the brand showed the incredible lengths that people were willing to go to get their hands on their product.

4. To promote the fact that Lay’s uses no secret ingredients in its crisps, just 100% real potatoes, vegetable oil, and a pinch of salt, the brand designed a bespoke vending machine in Argentina which invited people to pay for their crisps with potatoes rather than money. When you insert a potato the machine is activated and shows the entire process from raw potato to a Lay’s chip - brand comms doesn't get much more literal than that!

5. 7Up, a brand that’s all about refreshment, created The Melting Machine, a vending machine made of ice, offering passers-by in Buenos Aeries a perfectly cold drink on a hot day.

So what makes these vending machines so appealing? It’s about their novelty, as well as reality TV-style voyeurism: watching people navigate—and sometimes take orders from—technology they don’t fully understand.

Whilst all these campaigns have had online viral 'success', brands need to ensure that activation expresses their values. For example, a Pepsi machine in Belguim offering free cans in return for Facebook likes does little to express their brand purpose, and comes across as a bogus play for consumers’ information; people are motivated because its free, not because it's Pepsi. 

So, it may be that vending provides an interesting new activation opportunity for your brand, but brand-owners beware: don't ever dispense with your brand truth.

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