Hot Wheels Rolls Out Twitter-Enhanced Vending Machine

Toy brand triples followers in a limited run

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Walmart and Toys R Us shoppers may soon marvel at Twitter-enhanced vending machines for Hot Wheels after the car toy brand tested such an apparatus at the Canadian International Auto Show.

During the 10-day show that wrapped Sunday, 1,500 attendees tweeted @HotWheelsCanada in front of the vending machine, which recognized their proximity through location software and then dispensed a Hot Wheels version of a 1968 Chevy Camaro (as part of a partnership with General Motors).

Mark Stewart is director of digital for Toronto-based digital shop TrojanOne, which made the vending machine. He pitched the idea weeks ago to Hot Wheels after being inspired by BOS Ice Tea's effort in South Africa last year. Stewart was trying to impress the brand with a cool idea, he admits, "and then they called my bluff."

So his team built a device that employed the kind of spinning coil machine that dispenses candy bars, though it was retrofitted with a tiny, Internet-connected computer. There were glitches during the auto show, Stewart said. "For instance," he explained, "we had issues for a while with the BlackBerry API."

The machine's impact wasn't limited to show-floor buzz, as the Mattel-owned brand more than tripled its Twitter follower count for @HotWheelsCanada, from 1,200 to 3,800. Stewart said the initiative aimed to create positive brand sentiment both at the show and on Twitter. The Hot Wheels vending machine, he said, "turned men back into boys."

Whether it's social-media-enhanced vending machines or product-info touch-screens, consumers ought to get ready for the digitization of retail stores. For instance, Razorfish opened an Emerging Experiences Lab—a digital retail products showcase space for the agency—during October 2012 in Atlanta and plans to open similar labs in New York and San Francisco this year. And who knows what Walmart Labs has in the works for the big box retail giant's thousands of stores?  

Meanwhile, Stewart from TrojanOne said he had a meeting this afternoon with a major Canadian retail brand to discuss including Hot Wheels' vending machine in stores. "I think this is something you are going to see more of," he said.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.