In Singapore, you can hug a vending machine and get a free Coca-Cola in return. Coke is, apparently, planning to roll the campaign out across southeast Asia. Would you hug a machine?
Coke is expressly asking people to show it affection, and in return it will reward them with something both enjoyable and at least marginally valuable. It will give away its product in return for displays of affection. It’s an explicit call to do what brands always hope consumers will do, which is to form an emotional attachment to the product. It’s striking, if not an entirely new concept.
But there’s something more interesting at play too. Why would you show affection towards a machine? The machine feels nothing. Its sensors register that you have taken this small physical action, but it is utterly unaware of you, as a person, your existence, or even your display of affection (however much that may be just for show). The only connection being made is that of a circuit completed, which causes a drink to spit out of the bottom.
And yet. Look at those smiles. Everyone is happy. We want to hug the machine. We want these devices we interact with all of our lives, normally just to feed money into before pressing buttons, to be aware of us. We want the robot to love us, even. Or at least, we want the robot to appreciate our love.