Social Vending: How Pepsi Convinces Customers to Pay Its Marketing Tab

At the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s One Show in Chicago this past April, Pepsi unveiled a prototype for its new “social vending” campaign.

Two things surprised me about this:

  1. The vending machine industry has a trade show where they discuss more than the draconian guidelines for the crispness of a dollar bill.
  2. I didn’t think technology had come to the point where you could sign onto Facebook from your Pepsi bottle.

It turns out that social vending is Pepsi’s brilliant way of getting customers to pay for promotional products on Pepsi’s behalf! Marketing budgets are indirectly funded by company profits; in this case, the social interaction creates a cycle of events that bring customers back again and again without any additional investment on Pepsi’s behalf.

The promotional product in this case, of course, is a bottle of Pepsi itself*!

Check out this video demonstrating the process getting involved in “social vending” by ordering your friend an ice-cold Pepsi:

I am still getting over the vending machines that let you add flavors to Coke products. Is this way of wooing me away from the Coke vending machines, the ones that have given me a taste of what it’s like to be a Jetson?

The Pepsi Social Vending campaign is brilliant in that it increases vending machine traffic. Before this campaign, there was one reason why you would go to a vending machine.

  1. You want a soda.

(You might also need to stop an acid leak like MacGyver, but the sample size was statistically insignificant.)

So that’s it. You don’t want a soda? No vending machine. More importantly, no giant brand logo staring you in the face, searing its bold colors onto your impressionable mind.

The soda companies were sad, but Pepsi’s Social Vending campaign has added two more reasons to head down to the ol’ vending machine.

  1. You want a soda.
  2. You want to send a fun video message to a friend on her birthday and toss in a soda for a little something special. (Jameson Irish Whiskey has not returned my phone calls on a similar campaign idea for its brand).
  3. You want to redeem a free soda code you received as a gift.

I always wanted to be the daughter, Judy.

If only.

By creating a way for people to interact through a vending machine – each purchase allows you to record a brief video message to the recipient that will play when the code is redeemed – Pepsi will likely be seeing a dramatic increase in vending machine use.

The novelty will certainly help get this new business model off the ground, but the question here is really with sustainability. With smartphones and tablets allowing live face-to-face interaction at any time from virtually anywhere, what will social vending offer that’s different? Are Pepsi vending machines with this capability going to be more accessible than handheld technology? Would you order a friend** a soda through the Pepsi Social Vending program? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!


* We can get into a whole philosophical debate about where a promotional product ends and the company’s “real” goods and services begin, but let’s save that for another day.

** I like Wild Cherry Pepsi.

Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.


  1. Mandy K

    I don’t like or buy soda, and I still want to go play with that Pepsi Social Vending Machine.

    You win this round, Pepsi.

    • Jana Quinn

      I’m currently on a no-soda kick (although, in contrast, I love it like I love Die Hard), but I can definitely see my appreciation of the “ooh, shiny” making this a gateway back into my soda swilling habits. Why am I so powerless?!

  2. Juliette

    Wow. I had no idea vending machines had changed so much lately. (Our coke machine is one of the older, plainer models) I’m definitely more of a Coke person but I’d be tempted to send someone a greeting and soda at least once just to check it out. After that…well, I have a feeling I’ll go back to ignoring soda machines again.

    • Jana Quinn

      Same here! I’ve always been a Coke girl, but this is downright cool. And I think that “Oh, I’ll try it out once” mentality is going to convert some people. Maybe pair this with discount (buy one and send your friend one at a discount) will also help.

      • ASneed

        Agreed! I have always liked Coke better, but I will drink Pepsi too. That new Coke machine is pretty neat, I wonder if the screen can show recipes, I wouldn’t know which combos of flavor to add…you may end up with a disgusting drink!

        • Juliette

          Ah, the long forgotten art of the “suicide” soda. (when you filled your glass with some of every type of fountain soda available)

      • Juliette

        I agree, I think there will definitely be converts. (except for die-hard Coke fans like myself. Pepsi is waaaay too sweet for me. Heck, these days I avoid soda in general and stick to sweet tea….) I’ll be curious to see how this does though. I honestly think it’s a neat idea and I hope it does boost interest in Pepsi. Kudos to them for trying something new and different. 🙂

  3. JPorretto

    I like this idea, BUT…

    Can you imagine being stuck behind a bunch of Social butterflies all wanting to send drinks to their friends?! I just want to buy a delicious drink to quench my thirst! This used to be a 10 second process per person, now I’m watching 12 tweens type in all their friends information one at a time on a touch screen! Pass.

    However, if I find a lone vending machine with no one around…. a Wild Cherry Pepsi will be yours 😉

    • Jana Quinn

      Yeah, I imagine after the seventh frat guy sends a picture of his junk to the eighth frat guy, rage is going to overtake thirst as a driving force to solve the situation.

      Thanks! 🙂

  4. Joseph Giorgi

    I had no idea Pepsi was rolling out a new line of multifunction vending machines. I’d love to see one, but since I’m not a pop drinker, it’s unlikely that I’ll actually end up using one (and I’m just too stingy to “gift” a Pepsi).

    This is a very cool concept. But, as you pointed out, video messages and video chat are already pretty commonplace, so I’m not sure how much incentive there is for the consumer to spend an extra couple minutes at a “social” vending machine. Then again, people sure as heck don’t have any problem standing at a Redbox for up to 20 minutes, so maybe Pepsi is on to something after all.

    Awesome post! 🙂

    • JPorretto

      “new line of multifunction vending machines”

      I swear I thought this said “Malfunction” vending machines. That could also have been true…

  5. Jill Tooley

    What a cool concept! I’m generally skeptical of redeemable online codes (they never seem to work, and they’re SOOOO long), but I’d be willing to give this a try. The personalized message part of it is going to attract people the most because we’re all about the customization nowadays. Although, I have a feeling that there will be a lion’s share of questionable videos sent to friends…the temptation to flash a crude hand gesture (or something worse) will probably be too great for some. 😉

    • Jana Quinn

      I went to look up when this new model is supposed to roll out, and I came across this additional information:

      “Social Vending also enables “Random Acts of Refreshment” – the ability to buy a drink for a complete stranger through any other Social Vending system. For example, a consumer could send a symbol of encouragement someone in a city that has experienced challenging weather, or a congratulatory beverage to a student at a university that just won a championship. The platform holds potential to extend PepsiCo’s digital and social programs for its food and beverage brands”

      VERY cool. Can you imagine the number of sodas going out to students at large universities after huge wins? I wonder how they decide who gets the soda or if it’s randomly assigned based on location.


      • ASneed

        Very interesting! I also wonder who would get the free pop. And how it would show up on that machine’s end…like if you walk up, does the screen display, “Free Pop Available”? And if you’re lucky enough to be standing there, you just get it? This may get too complicated.

        This happened to me one time at a movie theatre. The guy in front of us bought two tickets for whichever couple was next in line to see that movie, and it was us! So awesome! =)

      • Mandy K

        Maybe it’s the anti-sport and anti-soda fan in me, but really? Hi, I’m Joe Six-pack and I just HAVE to send some unsuspecting random kid a Pepsi because the Illini just won a game. The recipient probably won’t even understand why they’re getting it.

        Now, sending it to a city that just had a natural disaster? That makes a lot more sense. Though those people should still just give that $1.35 to the Red Cross. It would do even more good than a bottle of Pepsi.

        • Jana Quinn

          I believe Pepsi machines also have water and juice (although I’m not positive). Also, the newer article I linked earlier mentions that it could expand into its food brands. Although a straight-up donation from Pepsi or cash contributed toward efforts might be more effective, this may be a way for people to send personal messages; those who may not be as interested in giving because it lacks a personal connection could be more inclined to send a message of hope. I can imagine religious organizations hopping on this bandwagon.

    • Juliette

      Note to self: send bottle of Pepsi to Jill while making ridiculous silly faces for the video….

      • Jill Tooley

        Note to self: reciprocate any Pepsi gifts and goofy messages sent by Juliette… 😉

  6. Bret Bonnet

    Just great – now we’re going to not only have to suffer the embarrassment of walking around in public seemingly talking to ourselves because we’re caught chatting to others via our tiny winy blue tooth headsets, but now we’re going to be singing love songs and shouting well wishes into our favorite vending machines.

    Maybe people would stop making fun of me for reading my emails out loud if I stuffed a small blue tooth device in my ear; they’d think I’m talking to someone! 🙂

    Seriously though… who the hell sends their friend a Coke or Pepsi?

    This is like Western Union or Moneygram for beverages!

    …. Want a cooler idea? Provide customers a way to compete for FREE products. The person who performs the best rendition of the Kit Kat theme song gets a free Kit Kat bar. Who wouldn’t risk completely embarrassing themselves in public by signing and shaking their booty in exchange for the promise of free chocolatey goodness! 🙂

    SIDE NOTE: How much time do you REALLY want to spend at a vending machine? I want to get my Coke and go. Do you really want to be stuck in line behind someone proposing their love for their significant other while they order them a Diet Coke 1/2 way across the globe? Will these message be censored? I mean, what is there is a wardrobe malfunction by the person in line in front of you?

    I digress…

    • ASneed

      Bret, your comments crack me up! You’re right, singing and talking to a vending machine will be hilarious to watch! =)

    • Jana Quinn

      I really like the contest idea, Bret. There could be contests where people’s videos are played on loop when customers are not using the machine. There can be voting involved for the best video with freebies as gifts. You could even create a “snack profile” and build points toward free products (or promo products!). Those types of initiatives would really put the “social” back into the social media aspect of this by expanding communities.

  7. ASneed

    This is all new to me, and it’s pretty cool. What a great blog post idea Jana! =)

    I don’t drink much pop, but when I do, it’s either in a restaurant or at a vending machine, so I’d give this a try sometime I think. But I’m not sure who I’d send a pop to. And after I sent the first pop, I don’t think I’d do it again. And I doubt I’d check out the Pepsi Refresh project stuff.

    And I agree with Jeff about not wanting to wait behind a bunch of tweens to send out messages. So depending how popular and widespread this project is, I think there might be a lot of people who will skip this special machine and grab their pop from a regular machine.

    But for people who want to spend time doing this, great! That’s a cool new thing for them then. And way to go Pepsi, it will bring more people to their vending machines!

  8. LK

    I would get really impatient and frustrated if I had to stand behind someone sending a video message to their friends via these vending machines. Luckily, I don’t drink pop so I won’t really find myself at these Pepsi vending machines. Now if they make it available with food too… that’ll be a different story.

    I did, however, come across the Coke touch screen drink vending machine at a Wendys and got so way overly excited about it that I had to order a drink so I could explore all the options. I think I only ended up getting an iced tea or lemonade, but that vending machine was AWESOME and like Jana said, I felt like I was in the Jetsons.

  9. LGroce

    I used one of Pepsi’s new fountain drink machines that lets you add flavors to your pop not too long ago. The vending machine was really cool, but I found myself hesitant to try the new flavors. Maybe I’m just not willing to part ways with a normal Mountain Dew or Pepsi quite yet. However, I was very intrigued with all the different fruit flavors that you could try and I would definitely use this machine before just a normal one. Pepsi is definitely going to see an increase in sales and I feel that it will be very successful.

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