Wednesday, August 23, 2006

kitsch: old vending machines & content hacks

In an age when every vending machine you find bleeps and boops and makes change and flickers with LEDs, do you ever find yourself remembering that cranky old vendo at the town pool that would occasionally spew dimes for no reason or dispense not one but two boxes of Good-n-Plenty? The same one that would eat your last quarter in an act of karmic equivalency with equal regularity? Yes, that one.

If new machines are equal parts art (or at least design) and commerce, old ones are definitely kitschy by comparison. Imagine Hermann Broch wailing in frustration banging on the front of a machine, watching his mini-bag of Fritos dangle tantalizingly out of reach and declaiming that old machines are an "evil within the value system of vending art."

And he'd be right. Because for those folks who make their all-cash living in the vending (sorry, automatic merchandising) business, old and antiquated vending machines aren't just inconvenient, they are evil - plagued by bad coin mechanisms or insecure enclosures or storage inefficiency. Old machines threaten their way of life and deserve to be expunged.

But for the rest of us. . .truly old machines offer a certain irresistable charm, especially in denominations of a penny or a nickel.

The nice folks at Art-o-Mat have taken old vending kitsch to its logical extreme by converting old pull-knob cigarette machines into proletarian dispensoria of various art-ish objects. At five clams a pull, however, they've got a business model that'd make the eyes of a vending pro water were it not for the fact that they've not mass-marketed the concept into every jazz bar and indy coffee joint nationwide. Yet.

There are simpler ways to bring old machines back to life - transform them from serving commodities to serving entertainment. The Art-o-Mat is a great start - but what if you stocked a Mills Automatic Merchandising gum vendo with. . .something new? What if you offered something new and novel to stock in a F.E. Erickson / Shipman "Ask Swami" dispenser? Remember those old nut dispensers? They're just waiting to be hacked. You could take a note from the so-called "collectible card games" and drop some "chase products" in a stack of merch. Guitar picks? Clove gum? Mystery scratch-n-sniff cards? Software trial extension keys? Coupons for MMORPG schwag? The possibities are endless.

The ultimate expression of this would be to make these machines the central draw to a store front destination - add coffee, music, art, periodicals and franchise both the refurb of the kitschy vending machines and their avant-garde hacked contents. Now that sounds like fun.

(edit1: The masters of high-tech modern kitsch vending are, hands-down, the Japanese.)

(edit2: Ron's comment below is a cool idea. More fodder for my eville plan!)

1 comment:

Ron said...

Why not have vending machines be virtual kiosks of you? People would know this machine represents you, in all your manifest experssions. What you buy out of it, is what you choose to put in it; art, advice, photos, whatever. Make them want to come and see you. Or entertain them if they only come to you once and only once ever!