For years, industry observers have predicted that vending machines would serve as advertising billboards for products and services. With advances in digital signage technology, that future is arriving.
In the past two years, a Phoenix, Ariz. entrepreneur has made some significant headway retrofitting text-based, light emitting diode (LED) screens to snack machines. There are presently about 100 snack machines in Greater Phoenix retrofitted with digital screens running LED text messages of stock reports, public service announcements, and even paid advertising.
The machines, with messages running 24 hours a day that are programmed wirelessly, are the first phase of an attempt to establish a national network of digital screen message boards on vending machines.
The project is the brainchild of David Levine, a former vending operator who has invested a lot of his own money in the enterprise over the past three years. Levine is working to establish the first nationwide advertising service that will allow businesses to target their messages to consumers in the work place on vending machines.
Levine’s company, MB Media Brokers, is not the first attempt to sell advertising on display screens mounted on vending machines, nor is it the only such attempt in progress.
Display screens on vending machines as advertising medium
In early 2005, a company called The Media Stores attempted to sell advertising on video display screens mounted on vending machines. The Media Stores also marketed compact video discs in glassfront machines. That company has since ceased operations.
Automated Vending Technologies, a vending equipment manufacturer and technology provider, has also conducted field test for machines that have built-in, video display screens. The AVT system utilizes liquid crystal display technology. These tests will be examined in an upcoming article in Automatic Merchandiser.
David Levine’s company, MB Media Brokers, recently won the Smart Money Small Business Challenge for 2007. The award is sponsored by Smart Money Magazine and Sony Corp.
“Our media is one of the only ways to expose the advertiser to a captive, working consumer on a daily basis,” Levine told Automatic Merchandiser.
Beginning as a vending operator
Levine, 32, got into the vending business in 2000 after working as a stock broker. He had always been fascinated by vending.
In four years, he grew his vending business to about 60 machines. While he enjoyed the business, he felt that it had the potential to do more than its traditional role of providing refreshment services.
“I saw huge, untapped potential in the business, but with stagnant prices and rising costs, the vending business as it stood made no sense to me,” Levine said. “Throughout this period, it bothered me that product manufacturers were the only people that were advertising on vending machines, either using their creative packaging or Lexan machine fronts. It always sat there in my mind, because I knew that they thought of the vending machine as a billboard.”
Levine first considered selling advertising on Lexan machine fronts, but this was impractical; replacing an ad is cost prohibitive and time consuming. Levine reasoned it would be much easier to have a digital screen in the machine that could be changed remotely.
Levine came across a remote-controlled LED sign at a retail store, and recognized that it would be fairly simple to retrofit such a sign in a vending machine. “I knew this would work well because the LED came with a wireless remote, so if I had to change a message, I wouldn’t have to do it from inside the machine,” he said. “I instructed my vending machine repairman to wire the sign directly into the power supply and hang it on the door.
Remote-controlled digital sign
The installation of the LED screen was the easy part. Levine then faced the task of developing a system whereby an advertiser could buy a defined unit of exposure. There was also the task of creating the message text for the LED screen; a system was needed to allow an advertiser to create text within defined parameters.