The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Coke lends fizz to AirTel service

New Delhi, Sept. 20: The power of SMS just got bigger. More and more companies see business sense in logging into the messaging revolution that has hit the mobile-toting world.

The latest to tune in with an innovative experiment is AirTel and Coke: now you will be able to SMS a vending machine for a “thanda” Coke Can or a bottle of Kinley, Coke’s mineral water brand. The technology convergence experiment — which hooks the power of a mobile phone to a consumer product dispenser — could whip up some more froth in an already fiercely competitive market for both colas and cellular services.

Imagine this: it’s a hot day and you are dying for a cool, cool drink and, yipes, all the shops are closed because it is a holiday. All you need to do is to send an SMS — 2899 — to the number that runs on a ticker of the dispensing machine.

Your mobile number will flash on the vending machine, which will ask you to pick a product. Once that’s done, an SMS will be sent back to you, indicating the amount that has been billed to your mobile bill. And that’s the beauty of it: you don’t pay up-front to slake your thirst.

Coke and AirTel plan to rope in a couple of partners to sell their products through the dispensing machines to broaden the options for the customer. Reports indicate that they are in talks with Cadbury India for its chocolates.

The experiment begins in Mumbai next month and the partners are gearing up for a national rollout soon after.

“This is part of programme called Ubuzz that is all set to be launched next month. This is focused on youth. Bharti will provide the latest cutting-edge technology and content and Coca-Cola will provide highly innovative marketing initiatives,” said Coca-Cola sources.

AirTel, which has just launched its cellular services in Mumbai, hopes to grab a lot of mileage with this initiative.

Krishna Sharma, manager marketing of E Cube India Solutions Ltd, which specialises in such m-commerce solutions, says: “Mobile commerce has yet to take off in India. It’s experiments like these that will give it the necessary spurt. Those who invest in m-commerce will now have a major lead over others, since they will be a major revenue earner,” said Sharma.

Coca-Cola will provide exclusive properties for the marketing of this initiative. The Ubuzz programme will also offer special value additions in different categories, like films, sports, TV, radio shows and meeting with celebrities.

“It is our endeavour to connect with the youth through passion that is fast catching up. Ubuzz is a project that allows us to interact with consumers on a one-to-one basis. Youth is all about here and now,” said Shripad Nadkarni, vice-president marketing of Coca-Cola India.

AirTel is also excited about the project and is all set to enhance value-added services using the simple platform of SMS.

“The project will be just another value-added service from cellular mobile operators. A vending machine set up on a highway petrol pump or a ‘dhaba’ can give you the stuff you want by just an SMS. It is true that the coverage is not good on highways, but services like this will certainly force operators to improve coverage and set up more cell sites,” said a senior AirTel executive.

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