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Coca-Cola tests Wi-Fi vending machines for deeper smartphone engagements

Coca-Cola is availing itself of the growing trend toward Wi-Fi use by smartphone owners with a new strategy to enable wireless connectivity through its branded vending machines. 

The Wi-Fi-enabled vending machines are being tested by Coca-Cola and British Telecom in two communities in South Africa. The strategy is the latest example of how Coca-Cola continues to lead the way in mobile marketing by coming up with clever ways to tie its brand to consumers? love of their smartphones. 

?This is a really interesting idea and a great example of ?the Internet of things,' or in this case ? a thing providing Internet,? said David Kovacs, vice president of business development at GPShopper. ?From a brand marketing perspective we have seen this before - think AT&T sponsoring Wi-Fi at Starbucks locations. 

?Providing Wi-Fi at supermarkets or gas stations would be an effective promotional tool for the Coca-Cola brand,? he said. ?It also doesn?t hurt that in order for a customer to access Wi-Fi, they would need to be in proximity of a Coca-Cola vending machine.?

Community support
The goal of the new vending machine program is to provide free Wi-Fi to nearby students to increase their knowledge through online research as well as to entrepreneurs and small business owners so they can manage some of their business aspects online. 

Coca-Cola previously leveraged mobile payments to simplify purchasing a beverage from one of its vending machines. 

The Wi-Fi vending machines are located in Umtata and Nelspruit. They are the result of a partnership between Coca-Cola South Africa, bottling partner Coca-Cola Fortune and BT Global Services. 

Coca-Cola is installing the coolers while BT is providing design and support, connectivity and Internet access, as well as business training.

Both vending machines are located in popular areas that see a lot of foot traffic so that the local population can combine day-to-day activities with the opportunity to access the Internet. 

No purchase is required to access the Wi-Fi.

Both companies hope to extend the project and install Wi-Fi coolers in various parts of South Africa. 

Wi-Fi growth
A recent report from Adobe revealed that over 50 percent of smartphone browsing and 93 percent of tablet browsing now come from Wi-Fi rather than cellular networks. 

The trend toward Wi-Fi is expected to continue as Wi-Fi becomes more widely available and high data prices on mobile networks persist. 

With this in mind, savvy mobile marketers such as Coca-Cola are trying to align themselves with Wi-Fi users. 

For example, a growing number of merchants offer Wi-Fi in their stores. 

Brands are also sponsoring Wi-Fi access in public transportation or big live events, such as Time Warner, which provided 235 access points of free Wi-Fi Internet service for attendees at the United States Open Tennis Championships in New York this summer (see story). 

Real-world experiences
Coca-Cola?s Wi-Fi enabled vending machines are the latest example of the brand marketer is leveraging mobile for unique real-world engagements. 

This spring, Coca-Cola Australia began testing a new type of interactive fridge that leverages augmented reality, facial recognition, social media and mobile to dole out relevant offers and content to specific consumers in-store (see story). 

Also, this summer, Coca-Cola equipped its World of Coca-Cola attraction with beacons that work with a new mobile application for unlocking location-based content around specific areas (see story). 

Brand interest in sponsoring Wi-Fi access could open up some interesting marketing opportunities. 

?As we continue to see the rapid growth of mobile, Wi-Fi access, or lack thereof, continues to be a pain point for customers,? Mr. Kovacs said. ?This consumer problem presents an interesting opportunity for retailers and brands. 

?Currently, while customers want access, many retailers are concerned about the strain that offering Wi-Fi will put on their network, in addition to security implications,? he said.

?But the way in which Coca-Cola is approaching the solution is smart. If retailers can partner with brands such as Coca-Cola to sponsor customer Wi-Fi access without even touching the retailers? infrastructure, this will open the door to many impactful marketing opportunities.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York