Would You Tweet for These Flip-Flops?

Old Navy, Nike, Westin Hotels dole out freebies for social chatter

Are street-based vending machines key to taking social commerce mainstream? Recent campaigns from Old Navy, Westin Hotels and Nike would suggest so, but some analysts argue that this sort of experiential advertising is simply a short-term marketing ploy.

Old Navy on Sunday wrapped up its second rollout of Twitter-enabled vending machines in Japan that dispense free flip-flops in exchange for sending a tweet from a kiosk. Earlier this summer, the retailer used 28 machines in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco leading up to a summer sale.

The U.S. kiosks generated 3,500 tweets and 12 million impressions, and gave away 9,000 pairs of flip-flops. Although a paper flier attached to the shoes alerted consumers about the upcoming sale, the program wasn’t intended to directly increase sales. “The purpose of the vending machines was definitely not a traffic-driving initiative for us,” explained Jamie Gersch, Old Navy’s vice president of marketing. “It was absolutely about building excitement and innovating on a day that we’ve had in the brand’s history for over 10 years.”

The out-of-home effort underscores a bigger shift in Old Navy’s strategy toward more digital media. Last year, the retailer ran a TV ad to support its annual sale but instead bought Promoted Tweets on Twitter this year. “This is an example of the translation of out-of-home advertising and marketing from the legacy, old-school way to the new way, and a lot of brands are going to take this and run with it,” noted Abid Chaudhry, senior director of industry strategy and insight at BIA/Kelsey.

Westin and New Balance also recently set up a social-enabled vending machine at The Westin New York Grand Central hotel to celebrate National Running Day on June 4. One hundred consumers used the machines to tweet specific messages before receiving free running gear.

The one-day giveaway turned into big social engagement for Westin. The campaign generated 183,000 impressions and 15,000 engagements from tweets mentioning either the brand or specific hashtags. “These numbers show that users were not only engaged with the activation but wanted to share it with their networks as well,” said Jon Amihud, social media specialist at Westin.

Despite some recent creative use cases, Jennifer Polk, research director at Gartner, questioned if social-enabled vending machines can become go-to tactics for brands, pointing to a lack in profit-generating calls-to-action. “Just putting up the vending machines and getting people to tweet about flip-flops might have given [Old Navy] some interesting quantitative and qualitative insight, but I don’t know if there is enough there to build a case on social commerce,” Polk said.

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