Challenge and Insights

Costa Express is vending machine coffee, but with the same great Costa taste. However, 7 out of 10 UK coffee drinkers reject machine coffee outright (source: Costa).

To drive penetration, Costa Express had to reverse this. After all, Costa Express uses the same beans and fresh milk as their in-café equivalent, which has been voted the nation’s favourite coffee for the last eight years.

We thought about the old saying ‘don’t tell me you’re funny, tell me a joke’. And we knew the answer to this problem lay in incentivising people to try the product for themselves, not in telling them how great it is.


The client had spent years advertising that Costa Express’ machine coffee is just as good as going to a Costa. But non-drinkers simply didn’t believe it.

People needed to taste Costa Express coffee to believe in its quality, but a traditional product sampling campaign wouldn’t offer sufficient scale. So we challenged Costa to make a bold move and deliver the biggest sampling campaign the UK had ever seen.

We made a business case to Costa where we calculated that to make it pay back, we had to drive and sustain three more cups of coffee, per machine, per day. The work paid off: in October 2019, Costa Express held their first ever ‘Free Coffee Day’, across more than 8000 machines. Every single machine, everywhere, free all day.

This represented a significant business risk so we had to go all in from a communications point of view. It was also a huge logistical undertaking involving supply chain, sales teams, technicians, marketing and of course media partners.


Free Coffee Day needed to be BIG. We invested our entire annual Costa Express media budget into a huge 5-day fame campaign across large-format print and digital OOH, press wraps, radio, social media and GPS-targeted environments such as Waze.

Our campaign was phased as a countdown, brewing up to a crescendo the day before, where our biggest formats and takeovers made the giveaway unmissable. On the day, GPS placements directed consumers to their nearest free coffee. In the 5 days we reached 96% of the UK.

Coffee lovers flocked to Costa Express machines for their free coffee. The business typically sells 300k cups a day: the 24-hour period of Free Coffee Day saw over 3.1 million cups distributed from the Express machines. It was so popular that stories of queues snaking around machines were widespread on social media, with the initiative organically trending on Twitter for the whole day.


Six weeks later, sales per machine had increased by seven cups per day. That could only have been genuine penetration. With 8,000 machines and an average cup price of £2.50, this drove a whopping £5.8m in additional revenue.

The total cost of the initiative including marketing was £1.5m. So after 6 weeks, this delivered an ROI of 3.8.

What’s special about this entry is that Free Coffee Day was the agency’s brainchild, from the concept itself to the decision to invest 365 days budget in just five days. A bold move that paid off.


Cups of coffee distributed in 24hrs


Million additional revenue in the 6 weeks after

3.8 ROI