In one of its first corporate, nationwide marketing efforts for its new Freestyle vending machine, Coca-Cola has released an app offering an interactive replication of the real-world Freestyle experience.
The machine, which can dispense up to 125 flavors of soft drinks, lemonades, sports drinks and flavored waters/sparkling beverages -- plus user-created mixed flavors -- is currently in phased rollout in select U.S. markets.
Coca-Cola clearly has great expectations for the machine, both in sales and consumer data/research terms.
Freestyles can now be found in more than 1,000 restaurant/foodservice locations in 60 markets, spanning 33 states, Coca-Cola tells Marketing Daily. The locator on Freestyle's Facebook page shows the novel machines being in some high-volume independents, as well as some locations of chains including Burger King, Wendy's, Subway, Five Guys, Jack in the Box, Boston Market, Del Taco, Qdoba Mexican Grill and others. They're also in all 437 units of Firehouse Subs.
Coke has not been shy about publicizing that the machines have been significantly boosting not only drink sales, but overall sales, for restaurants. The announcement of Firehouse's chain-wide rollout of the machines earlier this month reported that Firehouse has seen double-digit sales and traffic increase since it began testing the machines in 2009. And judging from the buzz on restaurant franchise sites/blogs, the demand for the machines is already strong.
Sales/usage data from the networked machines feed back to Coca-Cola, enabling the company to share this with its restaurant customers for further honing of selections and restocking -- and importantly, to gain by-market insights that will undoubtedly be valuable for Coca-Cola's ongoing product development and marketing.
The Freestyle app, created with digital agency 360i, is designed to familiarize consumers (Millennials are particularly drawn to the machines) with how Freestyles work before their first real-world experiences with them, as well as to drive trial in markets where the machines are popping up.
The app can be accessed by "liking" the machine's (cocacolafreestyle) Facebook page (which was launched, along with a Freestyle Twitter presence, a year ago). Clicking on a call-to-action to create a Coca-Cola Freestyle mix opens a canvas app that displays a digital interface that's nearly identical with the offline experience. The interface includes a visual display of the most popular brands and flavors, shows a running stream of the latest Coca-Cola Freestyle mixes created by consumers, and offers the ability to share mixes with friends.
The app is one of many marketing efforts on the way now that Freestyle will soon be reaching critical mass in key U.S. markets. (With the machines to be rolled out in some 80 U.S. markets by year-end, Coca-Cola is working with Ogilvy & Mather on a full 2012 marketing campaign, according to Advertising Age.)
PepsiCo's response to the Freestyle -- PepsiCo has just a 17% share of the enormous restaurant/fountain beverage business, to Coca-Cola's 70%, according to Beverage Digest -- remains to be seen.
Industry blog Bevwire speculates that, once the machines are firmly established in the U.S., Coca-Cola may look next to the Canadian market.