PepsiCo’s latest vending machine may be somewhat bizarre, but the concept at the heart of this new technology illustrates a valid aspect of this decade’s interactive online world that can be leveraged by bar and nightclub owners and managers to supercharge their email marketing campaigns.

Social Cola Gifting

Pepsi recently unveiled their “social vending machine,” which the company is promoting as the next generation of interactive vending. The machine has a touch screen that not only allows the customer to buy a bottle of cola for themselves but also provide one as a gift to someone else. By entering the recipient’s name, mobile phone number and a text message, a code will be sent to them with instructions on how to get their free Pepsi from their nearest “social vend” location. Not only can the gift be personalized by recording a short video right at the machine, but free colas can be sent to total strangers in what the company calls “Random Acts Of Refreshment.”

The Basic Idea Bears Emulation

The holes in this strategy are obvious even from just a cursory reading. Unless PepsiCo replaces all of their current machines with one these new models, the recipient may find themselves many miles away from their free bottle. Furthermore, many of their inner city vending machines are encased in steel bars, so their nifty touchscreen webcam units will soon be pried out with screwdrivers and sold in back alleys. Let’s not even mention that some hacker will break into the Pentagon’s networks through a cola machine. However, it is the basic idea that bears emulation by bar and nightclub owners and managers, certainly not Pepsi’s conceptually flawed implementation.

Free Drink to Another Subscriber

The profile of the Pepsi social vend customer is essentially similar to that targeted by your bar or nightclub’s email marketing campaign: they’re mostly mobile device enabled, they like to connect with each other and they like to drink! Well… at least cola! Offering your email marketing newsletter subscribers a one time code to obtain a free drink or other incentive for one of their friends can be a remarkably successful ploy. Chances are that the friend they send along to is not currently on your subscription list, and the text content you include along with the code could certainly incentivize them to sign up to see what other goodies can be had. Forcing the gift recipient to sign up in order to obtain their code is a hard sell scheme that should be avoided, as social media participants do not look lightly on being coerced into doing anything at all. Light hearted innocent altruism (or at least the semblance of it) is the approach that works best in the social networking sphere.

Varying Levels of Gift Codes

As for how your serving staff would validate these email gifts, it could be patterned along the way that automated car washes work. They provide you a code that you enter into the keypad at the entrance to the drive-thru tunnel and you get exactly the type of wash cycle you paid for. The free drink codes could be entered into the main computer system through an easily concocted validation process that uses your POS system or even the bar staff’s mobile smartphones as input devices. You could even offer different codes for different levels of gifts. The codes sent to your more casual customer segments could offer a free draft beer or glass of house white wine, while your habitual high rolling VIPs could be empowered to send along a bottle of Dom Perignon.

Even the “Random Acts Of Refreshment” could be emulated in your bar or nightclub setting. Why not offer your subscribers the opportunity to send a free drink to a subscriber of their preferred gender completely at random? The sender would not know who the recipient is but the subscriber receiving the gift would be informed of the person’s identity and could reply, if they wished, through an email address anonymizer like a Craigslist posting. In social media email marketing, your imagination is the only limit!