Coca-Cola said trials of new vending machines that allow users to take digital photos and download ringtones for mobile phones could be replicated worldwide as the soft drinks company seeks to interact more directly with consumers.
The trials of the “Cokefridge,” which have been under way in Germany over the past three months, come amid rising concern by governments over the way companies are using new technology to market sugary and salty food and drinks to children.
Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, is planning new restrictions on broadcast advertising of junk food to children. However, the restrictions will not affect other forms of media used by companies, such as the internet and text messaging.
Chris Burggraeve, Coke’s group marketing director for the European Union, said the development of the machines comes as the company tries to communicate with consumers in “a more relevant way”.
Asked whether Coke took into account government concerns over advertising of soft drinks to children, Mr Burggraeve said: “We do, and we always will.”
Mr Burggraeve said the new machines were the most advanced it had developed. Coke has been running trials with similar machines in Ireland.
The Cokefridge machine, on display at the CIES world food business conference in Paris last week, has an interactive screen that runs advertisements, and allows users to obtain free photos, games, logos and ringtones after they have bought a drink.
Users type a numerical code inscribed inside the cap of the drink into the interactive screen to get access to the photos and games.
The interactive screen says: “Available here: Cool mobile logos. SMS and ringtones and exciting mobile games. Every Coke and every Code is an experience!” Drinks available for purchase include bottled water as well as soft drinks.
Consumers can use a “Coke Cam” to take a photo of themselves in a frame that contains a Coke logo, and send the photo to an e-mail address or to a mobile phone. They can also interact with a website, www.cokefridge.de.
Mr Burggraeve said Coke planned to make agreements with third parties for the sale of ringtones and advertisements, but had not finalised agreements with potential partners.
Coke, which has about 2.8m vending machines worldwide, plans to expand distribution of the machines throughout Germany early next year. It has been trialling seven machines in six cities in Germany, including Berlin, Munich and Hamburg.
Neville Isdell, Coke’s chief executive, has encouraged more innovative product development and marketing.