Pepsi's Merging A Vending Machine With Social, CRM

Some mighty strange things have happened to vending machines lately, with machines offering iPhones and live crabs and accepting smiles for payment (for real) and contactless payment (although some would argue that smiles are more viable).

But Pepsi has now rolled out a touchscreen vending machine that isn't primarily designed to actually give you anything to drink. It's an interesting intersection between social media, vending machines and CRM. In a "tis better to give than receive" mode, consumers walk up to the machine and can only use it to gift a drink to a friend or colleague (or, for that matter, a bitter enemy) by "selecting a beverage and entering the recipient's name, mobile number and a personalized text message" or "a short video recorded right at the machine. The gift is delivered with a system code and instructions to redeem it at any PepsiCo Social Vending system," a Pepsi statement said.

This creative idea actually has some fascinating CRM potential. It exposes Pepsi to friends/associates lists and flags new people who might be open to receiving promotional contacts. From the consumer, it could be seen as a favorable gesture and those good feelings would likely extend to Pepsi.

And, yes, Pepsi included the obligatory "of course, we would never want to actually use any of this information" disclaimer, in this case: "PepsiCo respects the privacy of its consumers. E-Mail addresses and phone numbers are not stored unless expressly permitted by a user. PepsiCo also does not share contact information with any other partners. Standard text message rates apply for gifting function."

But, of course, Pepsi wouldn't leave it as merely a good idea. No, the company needed to push it into something strange and just a tad creepy. That feature is "Random Acts Of Refreshment." This is where you can send a beverage to, as Pepsi puts it, "a complete stranger." That's a little bit strange, but may I ask a favor, Pepsi? Can you offer an example or two to make this much stranger?

Cue the Pepsi statement: "For example, a consumer could send a symbol of encouragement to a city that's experienced some challenging weather." You don't actually send one beverage for the entire city. (Share nice, people.) The way it's supposed to work is that consumers will be shown a list of vending machines in that place and the consumer chooses one. Then the next person who happens to walk up to that machine gets it.

Said Mikel Durham, Pepsi's "Chief Innovation Officer": "Social Vending extends our consumers' social networks beyond the confines of their own devices and transforms a static, transaction-oriented experience into something fun and exciting they'll want to return to, again and again." Not so sure about that "again and again" part (known in marketing circles as the Tele-Tubby Factor), but for a sugar-water vendor, this is a pretty clever move. Strange, but clever nonetheless.