Behind Coke's Attempt to Unite Indians and Pakistanis with Vending Machines

Leo Burnett's Ambitious Campaign to Ease Tensions Between Feuding Countries

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Coca-Cola's long experimented with its vending machines, trying to make them more technologically advanced than the average soda-spitter-outer.

In the past, they've been known to give you a beverage only if you give them a hug, or if you dance or sing in front of them. Now, the beverage giant is attempting a much loftier goal: world peace.

Along with agency Leo Burnett, Coke created "Small World Machines", two vending machines, one placed in India, and the other in Pakistan, that turned into communication portals. The idea was to let citizens of both countries -- long embroiled in a bitter political and religious battle -- see and interact with each other, even complete shared tasks. Once those tasks were accomplished, the machines dispensed a Coke.

Jackie Jantos, global creative director at Coca Cola, said that the idea of creating stories around shared experiences goes back to the roots of Coke as a brand that started at a soda fountain -- itself a communal experience.

Using 3D touchscreen technology developed by Leo Burnett, the machines project live, streaming video feeds onto the screens of the machine, while also filming through it to capture an exchange.

In 2011, Coca-Cola put out a creative brief to the Leo Burnett network, asking them to create "new, open-hearted ways for people to come together, while highlighting the power of happiness," according to Leo Burnett CCO Andy DiLallo. The agency came up with the idea of Small World Machines, but knew that the execution would require them to use entirely new forms of technology. There was no mention of the idea having to be a vending machine, but Mr. DiLallo said that the agency wanted to do something motivated by the positive role in society a brand can play. "The use of vending machines merely provided us with a medium," he said.

The biggest challenge from a creative standpoint, according to Jon Wyville, EVP-executive creative director at Leo Burnett in Chicago, was that with a normal web camera or Skype technology, people rarely look directly at who they are talking to. Instead, you're looking somewhere above or below them, at a camera. The agency experimented with using a giant laptop screen with cameras around it, but realized that when people moved their hands to "touch" the screen, they went out of view.

So the idea was to find a glass that was opaque enough to stream sharp images, and could have live video projected through. At the back of a machine is a large projector that streams onto the glass, which doubles up as a touchscreen.

The stunt, which took place the week of March 18 this year, was previously teased in a film that was released at the end of December. A new film above will be online on Coke's site, as well as YouTube.

So can soda effectively bring together people from two countries engaged in decades of tension? Doubtful, especially since it was just a limited-time program. And given the machines won't be staying in the countries -- Coke is planning to take them elsewhere in the world -- it's pretty dubious that the beverage giant can have a long-term effect on tensions between India and Pakistan.

The company thinks it's on the right track though, connecting citizens of the two dueling nations, and is optimistic about the broader impact of the program.

Ms. Jantos said that on-the-ground teams in India and Pakistan were hearing that people in both countries were open to more positive interaction with each other. "It was wonderful to have our teams validate that this was the time for this message," she said. "Waving hello to someone in a land that is not so far away, but feels like it, was amazing."

The machines are now on their way back to Atlanta, said Ms. Jantos. But the team is currently plotting their next trip to try and bridge countries in conflict.

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