This week I stumbled across a design concept from PepsiCo that’s been in the works for a few months. It’s a vending machine for Lay’s potato chips that accepts not coins but potatoes in return for a bag of chips. Insert a potato and the machine displays the simple process that turns potatoes into chips—the washing, peeling, slicing, frying, salting and packaging—highlighting PepsiCo’s transparency campaign and its message that a Lay’s potato chip is natural: just potatoes, oil and salt.
The first of these vending machines is now being rolled out at a Walmart in Buenos Aires.
At first I thought the idea was nifty—a good play at transparency and a way to bring the consumer closer to the product’s manufacture, deeper into the brand womb. But, of course, the display is not that of the inner workings of a machine that cooks your potato. Your potato just triggers a hyper-realistic, life-size video depicting a potato tumbling through some Rube-Goldberg-style chip-making contraption before a bag pops out below. A small heater is even included in the bottom of the machine to warm the bags and make them seem like they’re full of freshly cooked chips.
The concept reeks of over-marketing. It’s silly that design firms are paid millions to make transparency sexy. I understand that there are limitations to what a vending machine can do, but spending $40,000 (the cost to produce the prototype, according to project head Nicolas Pimentel) just to make a brand seem transparent is misguided.
And where does my potato go? Can I have it back?
There is a balance between marketing and transparency that must be upheld to make a brand seem genuine. This potato machine is not well-balanced.