Commentary

Pepsi Unveils Social Vending Machines

Social media is coming to vending machines, courtesy of PepsiCo, which unveiled a new touch-screen interactive social vending machine at the National Automatic Merchandising Association conference in Chicago. According to InformationWeek, the machine -- developed for PepsiCo by DCI Marketing and Protagonist -- allows individuals to buy drinks as gifts for friends, who receive redeemable codes via text message. The person buying the gift just has to enter the intended recipient's name and mobile number, along with a personal message - plus a brief video message, if they wish. The recipient can redeem the code whenever the mood strikes.

IW reports that PepsiCo is protecting privacy by not storing email addresses and phone numbers submitted to the machines, which have yet to be market-tested with beverage brands (the first tests are due later this year). Users can also buy drinks for strangers in what Pepsi terms "Random Acts of Refreshment," with the gift delivered according to certain criteria -- for example, sending a beverage to someone in a city experiencing a heat wave.

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The social vending machines are PepsiCo's attempt to grapple with one of the main issues of social media marketing: making sure social media actually helps you sell stuff. It comes on the heels of mixed success for the Pepsi Refresh Project, the brand's first major venture into social media territory last year.

Pepsi Refresh was a big success in its stated goals of raising Pepsi's brand awareness and burnishing the brand's image, by giving away millions of dollars of grants to charitable initiatives large and small, with individuals and organizations submitting ideas online, and winners chosen by online voting. Altogether Pepsi allotted $20 million to fund grants in the project's first year, working out to about $1.3 million in grants per month. The online metrics were impressive: Pepsi told the Wall Street Journal that the Pepsi Refresh Project received more than 150,000 idea submissions in 2010, tallying 76 million votes from 17 million unique visitors over the same period.

But the total volume of Pepsi sales slipped 8.6% in the first nine months of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009, according to figures from trade pub Beverage Digest cited by WSJ. In other words, social media success appeared to have little relation (in the short term, at least) with increased sales.

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