Four Tips for Activating a Vending Machine Experience

Sparks Marketing
Google assistant playground gumball machine header

When it comes to experiential marketing and building memorable experiences, the possibilities are endless. Brands are getting more and more creative with their promotional strategies, implementing unique tactics to connect with audiences and drive home brand messaging on the show floor and beyond. One medium that keeps gaining traction? Branded vending machine experiences. Yes, you read that right — branded vending machine experiences!

“Brands are increasingly using vending machines as means to market their products for their accessible format, and for the novelty factor they embody,” says Trend Hunter. “This form of immersive marketing is less disruptive than its pop-up counterpart, and allows consumers to view or experience the items at hand without the pressure of being ‘sold’ a product or idea.”

To use vending machines as part of their marketing strategy, brands are taking several different approaches, adding various themes to each respective vending machine activation. From philanthropy to sustainability to pure fun, there’s no limit to the type of experience brands can create using vending machines in their experiential strategy. With that said, in this post we’re diving into four examples of brands activating branded vending machine experiences and notable tips to keep in mind from each.

The Google Assistant Playground Experience — Google Gumball Machines

Everything about Google’s presence at CES 2019 is iconic — we’re talking about the Google Assistant Playground. At the largest tech conference in the world, Google builds the ultimate experience to show off all of the Assistant’s capabilities. The two-story, 36,000 sq. ft., 2019 experience is an inviting, open space with compelling programming, content and large format, direct messaging via a massive exterior LED screen on the experience’s exterior as well as a city-wide out of home campaign. At CES 2019, Google continues to shape the Assistant narrative with finesse and touches that give the brand its distinctive, authentic vibe.

One of the Google Assistant Playground experience’s most popular features? The beloved Google Gumball machine — a fantastic example in the world of branded vending machine experiences. Popular with both the Googlers (internal lingo for Google employees) and the CES crowd, Google brings back the ever popular Gumball machine from 2018. Strategically located across from the booth, an 18 ft. tall, larger-than-life gumball machine is erected outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. The only-Google-can-do product experience features Nest thermostats, OpenTable gift cards, Headspace subscriptions, smart plugs, beanies and more. Old-school working gumball machines with ”Visit our XXXL version across the street.” graphic vinyls point attendees to the extremely popular experience.

Did we mention 400lbs of gumballs are served to attendees? In this case, the vending machine generates brand awareness, is authentic to Google’s overall brand messaging, creates hype and excitement for the experience among attendees, and is something that gets people talking on and off the show floor.

This is a great example of how to create a meaningful experience using a vending machine that stays true to your brand AND becomes instantly memorable. A complete win in the world of branded vending machine experiences.

Dove is All About Sustainability

“Vending machines give brands another way to build a direct connection with the consumer, unfettered by the behavior and performance of the retailer,” notes Chief Marketer.

When it comes to connecting with audiences, especially younger generations, it’s critical to show that you care about the issues that are important to them. For Millennials and Generation Z, sustainability is important. In fact, 56 percent of Gen Z-ers consider themselves to be socially conscious and more than 50 percent report that knowing a brand is socially conscious influences their purchasing decisions.

One brand that’s putting sustainability first is Dove when they activate a branded vending machine in New York City’s Grand Central Station as part of their “Proud of What We’re Made Of” initiative. For one day only, the brand erects a vending machine that’s all about recycling, encouraging passersby to exchange their plastic bottles for items like eco-friendly-packaged body wash.

“The vending machine [designed in partnership with experiential agency New Creatures] is made from wood and aluminium and powered by renewable energy via a solar battery,” notes Green Queen. “Over 2000 visitors during the course of the day deposited their plastic waste to receive a bottle of Dove Body Wash in return, which was packaged in a 100% recycled plastic container. Dove then collected all the donated plastic items for recycling after the event.”

A branded vending machine experience that’s all about supporting a cleaner environment, promoting sustainability, AND showcasing a brand’s dedication to eliminating plastic waste (while making consumers feel better about their own choices)? A stellar example of branded vending machine experiences that have the power to do good.

Honest Tea Gives Back

In keeping with the theme of doing good, let’s talk about how Honest Tea develops a branded vending machine experience of its own. In 2019, the brand puts forth a nationwide vending machine campaign in select cities that’s interactive and all about donating to charity.

Featuring phrases like “Choose a Drink That Makes a Difference”, customers who interact with the vending machine have the opportunity to give a higher dollar amount than the cost of their drink, choosing the “Up Your Impact” purchase. They also have an opportunity to vote on any charitable projects they’d like to support. All proceeds from the vending machine activation go towards Fair Trade USA, a charitable organization whose mission is to “eliminate poverty and enable sustainable development for farmers, workers, their families, and their communities around the world.”

“Honest Tea's interactive vending machines that let customers donate to charity aim to strengthen affinity for the beverage brand while demonstrating the company's commitment to fair trade and sustainable farming,” notes Marketing Dive. “Honest Tea's vending machine may compel more consumers to buy its products if they know they're contributing to a good cause and they feel as if they're making healthier food choices.”

Creating branded vending machine experiences with a focus on giving back and promoting a charitable cause? A truly impactful strategy for brands who want to connect with younger audiences who care about supporting others and doing good.

Coca-Cola’s Giant Vending Machine Makes a Splash at the Olympics

At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Coca-Cola, an Olympic partner, erects a huge vending machine that’s completely unmissable to anyone passing by. Setting up shop outside the Gangneung Olympic Park Hockey Center, the branded vending machine activation is all about giveaways, product samples, photo-ops, and unique interactive features, including a heating square.

“The heating square consisted of eight outdoor patio heaters, each equipped with a 360-degree camera capable of taking photos, which people could upload through the Coke Play mobile app,” says BizBash.

Branded vending machine experiences that combine social media (hello Instagram), giveaways, interactive moments, and fun? Yes please!

Branded vending machine experiences are a tactic brands should consider when they want to develop an experience that’s memorable, unique, and can help drive their brand messaging home in a fun, interactive way. We’ll take that every time!