PepsiCo’s Social Vending Machine.

In Japan, vending machines are such a part of consumerism that it’s become one of the key preferred ways that youth culture likes to buy things. The technology and ideas behind vending culture have become increasingly more common also in the United States, especially with unique collaborations.

For example, in 2009, Uniqlo offered-up a fun way to buy T-shirts by putting various color choices in a tube which one could then purchase via a vending machine. In 2010 NULL offering up vintage-looking boardshorts that were placed in various Standard Hotels in vending machines.

The Standard Hotel vending machine with Quiksilver board shorts collaboration.

In our Summer Youth Culture Study from 2010 when asked what would make it easier to buy the things you like the most vending machines did come onto the radar as a preferred fun option among 13-25-year-olds.

So on April 27 2011 when PepsiCo announced the launch of their Social Vending System for buying soft drinks it was in step with where technology and consumer interaction is headed. The idea from what we have seen so far is quite intriguing and probably has made Coca-Cola a little nervous.

The Pepsi Social Vending machine has a touchscreen that allows users to actually gift a drink to friends by selecting a beverage, and once you enter in your friend’s name and cell, they get a personalize text message from you and instructions to redeem a free Pepsi at another Social Vending machine (obviously one has to have access to these vending machines to get the freebie drinks). You can also create a quick personalized video that goes along with the message.

The other aspect is what PepsiCo is calling “Random Acts of Refreshment” %u2013 the ability to buy a drink (albeit a sugary, unhealthy beverage) for a complete stranger through any other Social Vending system. For example, you could send a random act of refreshment to someone in a city that was recently torn apart by bad weather, or send a drink to someone who won a big sporting tournament, or simply gift someone on the street corner because well, it’s a random act of refreshment.

According to Mikel Durham, Chief Innovation Officer at PepsiCo Foodservice, “Our vision is to use innovative technology to empower consumers and create new ways for them to engage with our brands, their social networks and each other at the point of purchase. Social Vending extends our consumers’ social networks beyond the confines of their own devices and transforms a static transaction-oriented experience into something fun and exciting they’ll want to return to, again and again.”

A prototype of the Social Vending System is debuting today at the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s One Show in Chicago.

Here’s how it works: